The University of Chicago News Office
Mar. 26, 2003 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421

University of Chicago to receive, hear newly discovered Billy Strayhorn works

[billy strayhorn]

If jazz is America’s most distinct contribution to the world’s music, then Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s arranger, is one of America’s few truly great composers - and also one of its most neglected. But Strayhorn is having his year at the University of Chicago: on March 29, a treasure trove of newly discovered compositions will be performed and the scores presented to the University’s Regenstein Library. David Hajdu, this year’s Robert Vare Visiting Writer in Residence here, studded his critically acclaimed biography of Strayhorn, Lush Life, with references to these song - and they can now be heard for the first time.

At 8 p.m. on March 29 at the Museum of Science and Industry, copies of all of these newly found compositions will be presented to Regenstein, to the sound of the works themselves. They will be presented by Alyce Clairbaut, Strayhorn’s niece, and performed by the Chicago Jazz Orchestra at “Something to Live For: A Tribute to Billy Strayhorn” at the Museum of Science and Industry. Guest soloists will include trumpeter Orbert Davis, saxophonist Eddie Johnson, and singer Frieda Lee, and the event will be recorded by its co-sponsor, the National Jazz Museum.

The discovery of the Strayhorn material opens up new possibilities for both academic study and musical performance, explains Deborah Gillaspie, the Archives’ Curator. “The Archive’s first set of Billy Strayhorn Manuscript Editions were a gift from the Library Society, made in honor of University President Don Michael Randel, a noted musicologist and jazz enthusiast. While the scores were a logical acquisition for the Archive, I was thinking also of the value of these works to the Department of Music in hopes of future performances by Departmental jazz ensembles. But what excited me the most were the new opportunities for research in jazz and composition that these scores made possible. Examining Strayhorn and Ellington's ideas before collaboration allows researchers to follow the thought processes of the two composers, then see how they interacted to produce the performance versions. The unpublished Strayhorn pieces will allow us to fully see him for the first time as an individual composer in his own right. It's so marvelous for the Chicago Jazz Archive to be able to offer scholars the opportunity to work with this material, and I'm grateful to the Strayhorn family for this generous gift.”

The Music Department is also taking giant steps forward in jazz. Thanks to a major donation from trustee Parker Hall, a job search is currently underway for a position in American Music which promises to advance the Department’s Jazz Studies program. This quarter’s Masters of Jazz piano series brought solo keyboardist Fred Hirsch, and next quarter will bring Dick Hyman, a major big band keyboardist. Music Department Chair Thomas Christensen emphasizes that these new concerts continue ’a historical connection here to the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s jazz concert series in Mandel hall, when major groups from out of town came through and played on campus, and great Chicago bands like the Art Ensemble gave legendary performances. With the new appointment, we hope to begin a renaissance in Jazz studies here.”

The concert and presentation happen Saturday March 29th at 8p.m. at the Museum of Science and Industry, with a repeat performance 3p.m. Sunday March 30th at the Harold Washington Library Center. Tickets are available at
Last modified at 12:28 PM CST on Wednesday, March 26, 2003.

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