1 min

Critical list

  • Lush Life by David Hajdu, the 1996 biography (published by Farrar, Strauss Giroux). Straight biographer Hajdu gives a master class on how to write about a gay artist, giving Strayhorn’s long-time gay associates the first and last words about the man they loved and admired.
  • And His Mother Called Him Bill with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (on the RCA label). Recorded by a distraught Ellington only a few months after Strayhorn’s death, it contains some of Strayhorn’s most perfect miniatures and Duke’s most poignant piano playing.
  • Far East Suite (RCA). Written in 1964, Ellington and Strayhorn reinvent the sounds of the orient.
  • Such Sweet Thunder (Sony). The two composers’ musical vision of Shakespeare, written for a first performance at Stratford, Ontario.  
  • Lush Life: The Billy Strayhorn Songbook (Verve). A tribute featuring jazz greats like Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson.
  • The Peaceful Side (Blue Note Records). A rarity: The only solo album Strayhorn recorded. He claimed to hate the Nat King Cole version of “Lush Life;” his own aching, melancholy version here features wacky backup singing.