Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Archives Explores Jazz History

Where: American History Museum

When: through January 18, 2016

If you're not a jazz aficionado, you can be forgiven for not knowing much (or anything at all) about Billy Strayhorn.  An important figure  in the history of the genre, he was overshadowed by his far more famous contemporary and one-time partner, Duke Ellington.

In fact, their 28-year partnership was one of the most important in American musical history.  Ellington had what the exhibit notes describe as a "forceful persona" (wonder what exactly that's a euphemism for?), and Strayhorn seems to have gotten pushed into the back seat in their joint enterprises.  Scholars are now taking a closer look at Strayhorn and his contributions to America music, and this exhibit is on as part of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, on November 29th.

This show, which includes sheet music with notes, albums and photographs, depicts Strayhorn as enormously talented, but content to stay in the background, allowing others to take all the credit for work that was partly his.  It was only in his later years that Strayhorn went out on his own, away from Ellington.  The question I have is why was he content to remain in the background?  Why did he allow his contributions to be unattributed or treated as second-best?  Sadly, the exhibit doesn't provide an answer, which is unfortunate.  I checked on Amazon and there is a new biography out; clearly I'll need to read that in order to learn more about him.

One little piece of information I was able to take away was that arguably his most famous composition, "Take the A Train," was based on directions to Ellington's apartment - one of those neat facts to trot out at cocktail parties.

Verdict: If you're at all interested in jazz or in American musical history, this is worth a look.

No comments:

Post a Comment