Honoring the work and legacy of one of the great jazz composers and collaborators, the Music Institute of Chicago presents a Billy Strayhorn Festival October 26–28. The festival, presented in partnership with Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc., a family corporation of the Strayhorn heirs, includes two star-studded concerts featuring trumpet great Terell Stafford and a screening of the award-winning film Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life followed by a panel discussion. The festival takes place at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.
The Music Institute is forming an honorary committee for the festival, co-chaired by jazz advocate and Billy Strayhorn
Songs Inc. President Alyce Claerbaut and world-class jazz musician and educator Clark Terry. Other jazz luminaries on the committee include Ann Hampton
Callaway, John Clayton, Michael Feinstein, Manny Fox, Victor Goines, David Hajdu, Herbie Hancock, Dr. Nelson Harrison, Hermene Hartman, Quincy Jones, Robert Levi, Tonie-Marie Montgomery, Terell Stafford, Richard Steele, and Dr. Richard Wang.
Billy Strayhorn (1915–67) was one of the greatest composers in the history of American music, the creator of a body of work that includes such standards as "Take the 'A' Train," "Chelsea Bridge," and "Lush Life." Yet, all his life, Strayhorn was overshadowed by his friend and collaborator Duke Ellington, with whom he worked for three decades as the Ellington Orchestra's primary songwriter and arranger. While composing some of the most gorgeous American music of this century, Strayhorn labored under a complex agreement whereby Ellington took the bows for his work; until his life was tragically cut short by cancer and alcohol abuse, the small, shy black composer carried himself with singular style and grace as one of the few jazzmen to be openly homosexual. (This text is courtesy of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
Friday, October 26, 7:30 p.m.-Film Screening and Panel Discussion
The festival kicks off with a screening of Robert Levi's recently updated, highly acclaimed documentary Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life
, which uncovers the mystery behind the complex life of this pioneering African-American composer, arranger and pianist. The film features world premieres of his music featuring singers Elvis Costello
and Dianne Reeves
, pianists Hank Jones
and Bill Charlap
, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and guitarist Russell Malone
. With interviews, performances, and archival footage, Lush Life
showcases Strayhorn's gifts and illuminates the issues that deprived him of deserved recognition. In 2008, Lush Life
became the first program in broadcast history to receive three important awards in one year: the Emmy Award for Best Documentary of the Year, the George Foster
Peabody Award for Broadcast Excellence, and the Writers Guild Award for Best Documentary Screenplay. The film was also one of three documentaries to make New York Magazine
's Top Ten Best Television Events list.
For the post-screening discussion, panelists include Henry Louis Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University; filmmaker Robert Levi; Victor Goines, director of jazz studies at Northwestern University; Strayhorn biographer David Hajdu
; trumpeter Terell Stafford; and WBEZ 91.5 FM broadcaster Richard Steele.
Saturday, October 27, 7:30 p.m.-Terell Stafford Quintet: This Side of Strayhorn