Finding Strayhorn

Before the celebrated composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn passed in 1967, he asked his nephew Gregory Morris to serve as Executor of his Estate and take care of his music. For 50 years Dr Morris kept the collection intact, first in Pittsburgh and most recently at his home outside of Phoenix, AZ. The collection, including scores, sketches, business papers and photographs is now available to researchers in the Performing Arts Reading Room. A Finding Aid for this collection may be found online here.

[Finding Strayhorn panel discussion in the photo above L-R: Chris Potter, Walter Van de Leur, David Hajdu, Alyce Claerbaut, Gregory Morris, Larry Appelbaum]

I first went out to look at the collection and meet the family in January of 2017. It was obviously a collection of great musical significance for anyone interested in jazz but I needed to assess the contents and condition and report back to my colleagues before we could move forward on acquiring it for the Library’s Music Division.

The collection came to the Library in 2018 and it became a top priority for us to process and catalog it in order to provide access to researchers in the Reading Room. On June 12, 2019 we gathered Strayhorn’s niece Alyce Claerbaut and Dr. Morris for a special event at the Library titled Finding Strayhorn. We were joined by Strayhorn biographer and critic David Hajdu (“Lush  Life”) and Dutch musicologist Walter van de Leur (“Something To Live For”) to celebrate and formally announce the acquisition of the Billy Strayhorn Collection. We also invited Chris Potter, this year’s Music Division jazz scholar-in-residence, to talk about how Strayhorn’s music continues to inspire him. He brought his tenor saxophone and played a stirring, virtuosic and deeply moving medley of Strayhorn compositions: Lush Life, Take The A Train and Blood Count.

 

 

 

Ms Claerbaut spoke at length about the Strayhorn publishing company, Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc. Dr Morris discussed his responsibilities as Executor of the Estate and the promises he made (and kept) to his uncle. Dr. Van de Leur explained the detective work involved to determine which unsigned works or fragments were composed by Ellington vs Strayhorn and Hajdu discussed the intersection of Strayhorn’s private life and his music. I had the great pleasure of moderating the discussion. With audience participation it turned into a fascinating discourse about the legacy of this gifted, creative musician, composer and arranger and how public access to the collection will impact music research and scholarship for generations to come.

 

 

 

Video by Larry Appelbaum

 

 

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2018 Jazz Favorites

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve written before about best-of-the-year summaries. And while I haven’t done much writing about music for commercial publications these past 12 months (still mostly focused on health and recovery), I’ve done enough focused listening to document the new releases in jazz that gave me the most pleasure this year. Here they are, in no particular order:

 

Cecile McLorin Salvant “The Window” (Mack Avenue)

Charles Lloyd and The Marvels featuring Lucinda Williams “Vanished Gardens” (Blue Note)

Matt Stevens, Walter Smith III, et al “In Common” (Whirlwind)

Joe Locke “Subtle Disguise” (Origin)

David Virelles “Igbo Alakorin (The Singer’s Grove), Vol. I and II” (Pi)

Carlos Henriquez “Dizzy Con Clave” (Redbros)

Joel Harrison “Free Country Vol. 3 (High Note)

Cannonball Adderley “Swingin’ In Seattle” (Reel to Real)

Aaron Parks “Little Big” (Ropeadope)

Chucho Valdes “Jazz Bata” (Mack Avenue)

Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau “Long Ago and Far Away” (Impulse)

Jonathan Finlyson “Three Time Round” (Pi)

Keith Jarrett “La Fience” (ECM)

Luciana Souza “The Book of Longing” (Sunnyside)

Wadada Leo Smith “Rosa Parks: Pure Love” (TUM)

Thumbscrew “Ours” and “Theirs” (Cuneiform)

Brad Mehldau “Seymour Reads the Constitution” (Nonesuch)

Jure Purkl “Doubtless” (Whirlwind)

JALC Orchestra “Una Noche con Ruben Blades” (Blue Engine)

Dominique Eade & Ran Blake “Town and Country” (Sunnyside)

Kenyon Harrold “The Mugician” (Legacy)

Andrew Cyrille “Lebroba” (ECM)

Woody Shaw “Tokyo 1981” (Elemental)

Tyshawn Sorey, “Pillars” (Firehouse 12)

Dave Liebman & John Stowell “Petite Fleur” (Origin)

Miles Davis and John Coltrane “The Final Tour” (Legacy)

Aaron Goldberg “At the Edge of the World” (Sunnyside)

Sasha Mashin “Outside The Box” (Rainy Days)

Henry Threadgill “Double Up, Plays Double Up, Plus (Pi)

Joshua Redman/Ron Miles/Scott Colley/Brian Blade “Still Dreaming” (Nonesuch)

Norma Winstone “ Descansado-Songs For Films” (ECM)

Ambrose Akinmusire “Origami Harvest” (Blue Note)

Sons of Kemet “Your Queen is a Reptile” (Impulse)

Allison Miller/Carmen Staaf “Science Fair” (Sunnyside)

Mark Turner/Ethan Iverson “Temporary Kings” (ECM)

Wayne Shorter “Emanon” (Blue Note)

Gregory Porter “Nat “King” Cole & Me” (Blue Note)

Miles Okazaki “Work” (self-produced)

Trygvie Seim “Helsinki Songs” (ECM)

Freebird by Walking Distance featuring Jason Moran (Sunnyside)

Iro Haarla/Ulf Krokfers/Barry Altschul “Around Again” (TUM)

 

Interview with Astor Piazzolla

Just in time for my Astor Piazzolla birthday celebration broadcast today, I found this aircheck buried deep in my closet. It’s from a program we did nearly 30 years ago when Piazzolla was about to bring his new sextet to the Warner Theater. The 3rd voice is one of my listeners Roberto Cucullu, who knew far more about Piazzolla than I did (he also brought a lot of rare Piazzolla recordings he’d collected over the years). Good memories. I miss Astor Piazzolla, who would have turned 97 today.

 

The Three Graces: “Larry Applebaum”

More than 10 years ago, my former boss at work, Michael Donaldson (an inveterate 45 collector), brought me a little something he picked up at a thrift store. It was super rare 45 of a New York-based vocal trio named The Three Graces singing a song dedicated to their latest heartthrob, Larry Applebaum. I was startled to see the title of the recording, issued by Golden Crest in 1960, written by Cy Levitan.

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It has many of the characteristic pop sounds of the day: jangly guitars, sax solo, vocal harmony and several very catchy hooks. It’s taken me many years to find a clean copy, so I’m grateful to Jeff Krulik, Gary Levine and Lee Michael Demsey for tracking it down for me. I now have my new closing theme for my radio show!