LUSH LIFE

A BIOGRAPHY OF BILLY STRAYHORN

Hajdu (an editor at Entertainment Weekly) has found a perfect subject in Strayhorn, a little-studied figure central to jazz history, the composer of such famous Ellington-band pieces as ``Chelsea Bridge,'' ``Lush Life,'' and ``Take the A Train.'' ``Strays'' (also known as ``Swee' Pea''), born in 1915, grew up working-class in Pittsburgh and had high-society aspirations from the start: He wrote an entire Gershwin-like musical revue a year out of high school, full of sophisticated recitative and advanced harmony. He yearned for a career in concert music. But, as Hajdu points out, he was a ``triple minority'': black, gay, and unwilling to hide his homosexuality. His break came in 1938, when he met Duke Ellington; possessed of both a supernal cool and a tenacious business sense, Ellington knew Strayhorn was gifted and worked out a deal. Hajdu meticulously recreates this unusual agreement: Ellington gave Strayhorn free rein to let his Ellington- influenced composistional sense run wild, but he gave Strays no by-line (and, as Strayhorn would find out, no publishing royalties). At first, Strayhorn submitted to Ellington's benevolent dictatorship. Eventually, though, his compositions moved beyond Ellington's influence; as he grew increasingly depressed by his obscurity, he transcended the ghost-writing arrangement to achieve his own, dark style and a small measure of fame. As one of his friends told Hajdu, both Ellington's and Strayhorn's music was great, the difference was that Strayhorn's ``was so full of feeling.'' This is jazz history as it has seldom been written before, covering both Strayhorn's powerful music and difficult life as well as the hidden history of New York's black and gay artists from the 1930s until Strayhorn's death in 1967. Hajdu gets deeply felt and non-mythologizing input from important members of Strayhorn's protective circle, including ex-lovers and close friends (Lena Horne's reminiscences are extraordinarily moving). A good idea done right.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-374-19438-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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