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Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life

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From the Emmy-winning writer-producer-director Robert Levi comes this enthralling documentary film on the composer, arranger, and pianist that is, as well, a celebration of big bands like Duke Ellington’s, an account of Strayhorn’s troubles as a gay man in the homophobic jazz world of the forties and fifties, and a case history of Oedipal struggle. Archival footage takes us from Pittsburgh, where the prodigy grew up, to Harlem, Hollywood, and Paris. Dianne Reeves sings such Strayhorn classics as “Lush Life.” Dulé Hill (The West Wing) impersonates Strayhorn, quoting from his letters. Gunther Schuller, Chico Hamilton, Luther Henderson, and Elvis Costello discuss his music. Gail Buckley talks about his civil-rights activism, undertaken with her mother, Lena Horne. But mostly we are asked to think about his relationship with Ellington, the surrogate father and collaborator who somehow forgot to give him credit even for such signature compositions as “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life
Channel 13, Tuesday, February 6, 10 p.m.


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