Welcome to From Basin St. to Birdland

by mikeconklinmusic


I mentioned in yesterday’s post that no other jazz composer has had more of a profound impact on me than Billy Strayhorn. In works such as Day Dream, Lush Life, Blood Count, and Lotus Blossom, I hear a deep sense of lament that rattles my core.

The following link, again an excerpt from the documentary Lush Life by Robert Levi, describes the way in which Billy handled what would come to be his last years:

Strayhorn’s condition worsened and even hospitalized, he continued to compose:

The prior example of Blood Count was performed by Elvis Costello, Joe Lovano and Hank Jones.

Devastated by the lose of not only a musical soul mate, dear friend, but as he declared, “the other half of my heart beat.” A few months after the death of Strayhorn, Ellington brought in an ensemble to record an album dedicated to his memory. The recording is entitled, And His Mother Called Him Bill.

The next tune, Lotus Blossom, is absolutely heart-wrenching. There are two versions on the album. First, I will post the trio version played with only baritone saxophonist Harry Carney and bassist Aaron Bell accompanying Ellington.

The solo version will follow. You can hear a quiet, restrained, meditative mood. As the tune progresses, the dynamics increase as Ellington seems to be striving to speak to his lost friend. Focused on the passionate delivery of the song, Ellington misses some notes and stops on occasion, perhaps overcome with emotion. Yet, this adds to the recording — he his human and this rendition illustrates the frailty of the human experience.

(As an aside, you can hear the band packing up and speaking in the background. Ellington ignores this and continues to record his elegy.)