Billy Strayhorn was a pioneer of the modern big band sound. He brought a complexity to melody, harmony, orchestration, and compositional form that stemmed from influences outside of jazz and blues. His formal training in classical music, combined with his love for jazz and musical theater, resulted in a progressive touch to the already trail-blazing Duke Ellington Orchestra. Strayhorn’s emotionally deep yet palatable music influenced a line of jazz artists who were the creators of Bebop in the 1940s, and the modern styles that followed.
Characteristics of Billy Strayhorn’s Music
Billy Strayhorn’s music has often been analyzed, and critiqued, with Duke Ellington’s compositional approach in mind. Many have described Strayhorn as “fitting himself” into Duke Ellington’s sound or adopting an entirely “Ellingtonian” way of composing. It’s true that he wrote with Ellington’s soloists in mind, which highlighted the personalities in the band. However, Billy Strayhorn’s techniques are far more individualistic. He was a trendsetter who inspired countless legends with his forward-thinking melodies, lyrics, orchestrations, and compositional form.
Ever Up and Onward: A Tribute to Billy Strayhorn
In this eight-part video series, bassist and Colburn Conservatory alumnus Marlon Martinez explores the life, legacy, and music of this jazz icon.
Watch the series