Comparing Billy Strayhorn's Music To The World

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Binyi Wu Ethnomusicology 50A Discussion 1E November 23, 2015 Billy Strayhorn “The extent to which Billy Strayhorn gained recognition during his years with us was never commensurate with his contribution” said Leonard Feather, the British-born jazz musician. Indeed, though contributing enormous brilliant jazz pieces to the Swing era, Billy Strayhorn was far more unnoticed compared to his collaborator, the jazz master Duke Ellington. Instead, living most of his professional life as the protege of Duke Ellington, Strayhorn passed away in 1967 at too young an age to fully illustrate his own music to the world. However, Strayhorn’s work encountered a resurgence with the dedication of fellow musicians like Toshiko Akiyoshi and Joe Henderson…show more content…
Firstly, even though Strayhorn was deeply influenced by Ellington and intentionally focused on the Ellington style, their approaches were bound to be different because of their musical background. Ellington was a self-taught musician who learned jazz by listening to ragtime and stride piano players. Thus, some of his work had unrelated blocks, in the stop-and-start tradition of the great stride pianist. Since Ellington 's goal was often to develop a piece of music by establishing the maximum contrast between its various sections, this approach suited him. By contrast, Strayhorn was classically trained and well-versed in classical harmony and repertoire by the time he met Ellington. For Strayhorn, melodic and harmonic development was most important. His famous song “Lush life” illustrated the composer’s early style. The whole song had a quite slow tempo, and vocal part was exaggerated. The chord progression of the piano accompanied the vocal which drifted smoothly up and down with the change of emotion, while the percussion and string sections were presented softly in the background. Remarkably, the leading position vocal in this song also illustrated the change of focus from band to vocalist in the late Swing era. Secondly, Staryhorn’s work often contained greater tenderness. As the saying of bassist Aaron Bell, a one time Ellingtonian, “There’s so much more sensitivity and complexity in Strayhorn’s composition than Ellington’s”. The lyrics of “Lush Life” demonstrated the born sensitivity of the song writer. They created a worldly despair so vivid and touching that it was hard to believe that the song was written by a 16-year-old teenager. Being a trio-minority-African American, gay, and open about his sexual orientation, Strayhorn lived under pressure and had his own

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