Billy Strayhorn composed so many wonderful songs that even his employer, the indefatigable Duke Ellington, was unable to keep pace and record them all. A number of those precious treasures have been reclaimed from undeserved obscurity by musicologist Walter van de Leur and the world-class Dutch Jazz Orchestra, which here performs seventeen of Strayhorn’s previously unrecorded worksincluding three that were written before Billy left Pittsburgh in 1938 to become Ellington’s chief arranger and alter ego.
This is the DJO's second album of freshly discovered compositions and arrangements by Strayhorn; the first, the widely acclaimed Portrait of a Silk Thread, was recorded in 1995. Challenge Records and the DJO have since released two more albums of Strayhorn’s music, Something to Live For and Strayhorn and Standards. While much of the material presented here was written for the Ellington orchestra, there are two pieces (“Swing Dance,” “Feet on the Beat”) specially tailored for the tap-dance group The Copascetics, as well as those earlier pieces from Pittsburgh (“So This Is Love,” “Valse” and Strayhorn’s bubbling arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Remember”).
“Several hitherto unrecorded numbers,” van de Leur writes in the liner notes, “have in all likelihood been played (though not necessarily in public), such as ‘Flame Indigo’ (which stems from the 1941 theatre show Jump for Joy ) and ‘Boll Weevil Ballet’ and ‘Fol-de-Rol-Rol’ (both from the 1946 Beggar’s Holiday ). Other pieces were performed by the orchestra but in different guises: ‘Blue Heart’ is the original version of the later ‘Paradise,’ while ‘Orson’ and ‘Pomegranate’ (the latter from A Drum Is a Woman ) recorded by Ellington in 1953 and 1956, respectively are given here in their original full-length versions, as in both cases more than half the material was cut for the original recording.”
The heartbreaking “Lonely Again,” van de Leur writes, “is certainly one of the most exciting finds; this is one of two arrangements that Strayhorn wrote the very day after he first met Duke Ellington in December 1938. Strayhorn arranged the work at Ellington’s request, [as Duke] was extremely impressed with the song and its lyrics. . . .The Ellington [Orchestra] never performed the piece, and it would take another decade before ‘Lonely Again’ became widely known under a [new name], ‘Lush Life’.”
Clarinetist John Ruocco is featured on “Lonely Again,” as he is on “Swing Dance,” with tenor Toon Roos on “Feet on the Beat” and with pianist Rob van Bavel on “Fol-de-Rol-Rol.” Other headliners are Roos (“Matinee”), van Bavel (unaccompanied on “Valse”), alto saxophonist Albert Beltman (“Blue Heart”), trombonist Ilja Reijngoud (“Remember”), flugel Ack van Rooyen (“Pomegranate”) and trombonist Hansjörg Fink (“Lozit”). Beltman and Roos solo on “Anatomy of a Murder” and “Flame Indigo,” pianist Rob Madna, trumpeter Ruud Breuls and bassist Jan Voogd on “Jo” (which reminds one of “Lullaby in Rhythm”), bass clarinetist Nils van Haften, trombonist Martijn Sohler and trumpeter Mike Booth on “Boll Weevil Ballet,” Ruocco, Roos, Reijngoud, van Bavel and Breuls on “Tiffany.” There is one vocal, by the superb Marjorie Barnes, on “So This Is Love.” The rhythm section (pianists van Bavel or Madna, bassists Voogd or Frans van der Hoeven, drummer Eric Ineke) is as nimble and responsive as one could wish.
Given the time period in which these songs and arrangements were written (circa 1934-62), one could be forgiven for assuming that the music might sound dated, but that’s not the case at all, thanks to the enormity of Strayhorn’s talent and the gleaming coat of paint solicitously applied by the DJO whose handiwork would no doubt have left Strayhorn and Ellington grinning from ear to ear. Like anything composed by a master craftsman, this is music whose staying power transcends the passage of time and is refreshing in any era. A hearty round of applause to Walter van Leur, Jerry van Rooyen and the DJO for reminding us of its loveliness and grandeur.
Contact: Challenge Record Services, P. O. Box 540, 6800 AM Arnhem, The Netherlands (www.challenge.nl); Allegro Music, 14134 NE Airport Way, Portland, OR 97230–3443; 800–288–2007; e–mail mailcs@allegro–music.com
Personnel: Jerry van Rooyen, leader; Ack van Rooyen, trumpet, flugelhorn; Jan Oosthof, Ruud
Breuls, Peter van Soest, Erik Veldkamp, Mike Booth, Jan Hollander, trumpet; Martijn
Sohier, Ilja Reijngoud, Hansj