During their nearly three decades of working together, Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington created a legacy of music for the ages. This set offers a rare opportunity to hear Strayhorn the composer playing many of his own songs, as well as some he wrote with Ellington and others. Their partnership began in 1939 and ended only with the death of "Swee' Pea," as Strayhorn came to be fondly called by Ellington, at a mere 52 from cancer in 1967.
The first ten cuts in this collection, recorded in Paris during two midnight sessions in 1961, were originally released on an LP rather inexplicably called The Peaceful Side of Billy Strayhorn
. To that set another eleven sides have been added here. Recorded at various dates in New York from 1946 and 1950, both Ellington and Strayhorn play the piano.
The 1961 sides are marked by simplicity and a vibrant emotional connection. Strayhorn's playing is not showy. It's an honest performance in which each note of his "Passion Flower or his and Ellington's "Strange Feeling are invested with soul. On three numbers, the Paris Blue Notes lend a dash of vocalese. If on "Lush Life their "aaaaaahs verge on the kitschy, on "Day Dream they deepen the reverie. "Lush Life also remains notable as a highly personal and courageous reference to gay life by Strayhorn.
The mood shifts dramatically with the first of the Strayhorn and Ellington duets, "Cottontail, a hop-hopping race across the keyboards to the accompaniment of Wendell Marshall's bass. The high spirits of their exchanges on "C-Jam Blues are complemented by the tenderness of their playing on "Flamingo, the set's only cover. Filled with brilliant, playful, intimate and thoughtful touches, this private party of giants is one we're fortunate indeed to be able to share.
Personnel: Billy Strayhorn: piano; Michel Gaudry: bass (2,3,8-10); Paris String Quartet: strings (4,10);
Paris Blue Notes: vocals (1,6,8); Duke Ellington: piano; Wendell Marshall: bass (11-14); Joe
Shulman: bass (15-18).