I’ve been reading David Hadju’s “Lush Life: a Biography of Billy Strayhorn.” Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s arranger and collaborator, grew up as a poor African-American kid in Pittsburgh who somehow started reading The New Yorker and became entranced by a fantasy vision of sophisticated urban life. He eventually moved into this life himself, but what kind of amazed me was that he started writing songs like “Lush Life” based on this imagination before he had ever experienced it himself. And so his music (a song like “Lush Life”), which is now an iconic embodiment of this particular ideal, was weirdly proleptic and fantasy-based, but also seemed to have the power to create and substantiate its own fantasy.
Part of what surprised me was the idea that The New Yorker may have been a big influence on Ellington and Strayhorn’s music.
2 thoughts on “Billy Strayhorn”
Hadju is almost as much a machine as you are( at least in your blogging incarnation) . I was just reading a review of his newest, on the Comics controversy of the 50s, and realizing that he also wrote a book just a couple years ago on the early 60s NYC folk scene… I had no idea he’s also written this famous bio.
I love “Positively Fourth Street,” a perfect combination of amusing/instructive gossip and smart socio-cultural and musical analysis.