Gay Jazz Musician Portrayed On Film

Gay Jazz Musician Portrayed On Film
A new documentary sheds light on the life of Billy Strayhorn a jazz composer arranger and pianist. The documentary Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life chronicles his experiences and the groundbreaking musical compositions he created. The ninety-minute film weaves together a rich tapestry of interviews archival footage and musical performances showing his triumphs and disappointments as a gay African-American composer.
The main focus of the film is Billy Strayhorns partnership with Duke Ellington a famous jazz composer and musician. Through interviews with Strayhorns friends and colleagues filmmaker Robert Levi reveals that Strayhorn wrote many popular songs for Ellington but received very little credit.
“With Strayhorn as catalyst Ellington ushered in what is arguably the greatest period of his career” says Actor Keith David while narrating one segment of the film. “[The song] Take The A Train has always been [Ellingtons] greatest revenue producer but Billy Strayhorn its author…received none of the songs royalties.”
In the film on-camera interviews are combined with archival footage to show that Strayhorn was gay but was forced to be discreet about his sexual orientation due to public intolerance of homosexuality. The film shows him attending private parties where he socialized with other gay men. It also points out that he participated in the civil rights movement and met with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ultimately Robert Levis documentary portrays Strayhorn as a brilliant composer who was never able to obtain true stardom. That unfulfilled quest to be in the spotlight appears to have affected him deeply. In an interview with EDGE New England a gay news publication vocalist Dianne Reeves said “…the majority of Strayhorns songs have a kind of sadness. Theyre about not being able to find the love you desire.”
Strayhorns sadness is vividly detailed in his heart-wrenching song My Flame Burns Blue which is performed in Levis film by singer Elvis Costello. According to Strayhorn wrote the song while dying of cancer.
In Levis film Dianne Reeves expresses regret that Strayhorns life ended at the age of 51. “Had he lived he would still be writing all of this wonderful music” she says. “…he wouldve seen a new world because I think that there would be a great community of people that wouldve embraced him.”
Written by Glenn Bossik Exclusively for
© 2007


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