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
Had the pleasure of interviewing Lou Donaldson, Michael Cuscuna and Jason Moran at the Blue Note at 75 panel discussion, May 10, 2014 at the Library of Congress. I was a bit under the weather that day, but the conversation lifted my spirit. Special note of thanks to Bruce Lundvall for his contributions to jazz and American music.
Pianist, composer Uri Caine talks about coming up in the Philadelphia jazz scene and his approach to composition, improvisation and creativity with Larry Appelbaum at the Atlas Performing Arts Theater in Washington DC.
On Sept. 30, 2009, I met with Russian author, journalist and Managing Editor of Jazz.ru Cyril Moshkow at the Library of Congress to discuss the history of jazz in Russia and the American influence on Russian jazz musicians. The conversation was co-sponsored by the Open World Leadership Center and the Library’s Music Division.
This interview with Sonny Rollins was commissioned as an NEA Jazz Masters oral history in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s Jazz Oral History Program, recorded on Feb. 28, 2011 at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC. Rollins, who was 80 years old at the time, seemed to enjoy the questions and the flow of the conversation, which stretched to nearly 3 hours, pausing only to change tapes. Pt 1 of this interview is here. Pt. 2 is here.
Appelbaum: Let’s continue. When you were at a certain crossroads, you were playing the
horn, you loved this music so much, you knew you’re going to dedicate your life to it, but
in terms of style, many people of your generation–horn players–went either
towards Coleman Hawkins or towards Lester Young. And I wonder if you ever felt you
had to make a choice, and if so, how did you make that choice?
This interview with Sonny Rollins was commissioned as an NEA Jazz Masters oral history in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s Jazz Oral History Program, recorded on Feb. 28, 2011 at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC. Rollins, who was 80 years old at the time, seemed to enjoy the questions and the flow of the conversation, which stretched to nearly 3 hours, pausing only to change tapes.
Appelbaum: Let me begin by just asking some basics to establish some context.
Tell us first of all the date you were born and your full name at birth.
Rollins: Oh, I was afraid you were going to ask me that. Ok, my full name at birth was
Walter Theodore Rollins, and I was born September 7, Sunday morning, 1930 in Harlem,
America on 137th Street between Lenox and 7th Avenues. There was a midwife
that delivered me, and that was my–how I entered into this thing we call life.
On September 24, 2012, I interviewed saxophonist, composer, bandleader Wayne Shorter for the Smithsonian/NEA Jazz Masters Oral History Series. The first part of the interview can be found here. Here is the conclusion.
Appelbaum: So how do you tame the ego to strip away illusion and go into the unknown?
Shorter: This is by interacting…um…interacting with one another, interacting with the least expected entity…interacting with the next-door neighbor that you have never spoken to, maybe because they’re from another country, or they look different or anything like that…but interacting with them with… This is the name of the album that is going to come out, that I’m working on now. Interacting with them, and interacting with factions, aspects of life without a net. That’s the name of my album, Without A Net.