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November 29, 2008


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greg mottola

I love Billy Strayhorn. "...And His Mother Called Him Bill" is one that I've listened to a lot -- several tracks always end up on mix CDs and ipod playlists. But I'm a romantic depressive.

Glenn Kenny

Well, Strayhorn was a romantic depressive, too. It's almost funny to remember that he wrote the lyrics to "Lush Life" when he was only in his twenties.

The most heartbreaking thing on "...And His Mother Called Him Bill" is Ellington's solo piano rendition of "Lotus Blossom," which he played just for himself, not aware that tape was rolling. You can actually hear the other musicians packing up and chatting in the beginning—it seems they grow quiet as they notice what's going on. Duke's playing is passionate, tortured. A terribly moving piece.

Strayhorn plays a lot of piano on a couple of terrific Johnny Hodges records, too. The late, great Tommy Flanagan's "Tokyo Recital" is a terrific all-Strayhorn set. I tried never to miss Flanagan when he played in town, and I'm glad I saw him as often as I did, but I'm still bummed I won't be seeing him any more...

greg mottola

Yeah, that version of Lotus Blossom is just stunning. My thesis screenplay at Columbia was titled "Lush Life" (that script got me into the Sundance workshop back in '92 -- alas, my youthful writing didn't earn the title). I saw Tommy Flanagan at the Vanguard years back, wish I'd seen him more. I also love those Johnny Hodges records with Strayhorn. I could've inverted the words and said I was a "depressive romantic", but the depressive side has always had a slight edge. Okay, off to buy 'Tokyo Recital'...


Always good to see Strayhorn appreciated, but I have to make a correction: he had no part in writing "Sophisticated Lady." That tune dates from 1932, about seven years before Strayhorn signed on as Ellington's assistant/collaborator.

And I'll third that remark about the impromptu Ellington solo take of "Lotus Blossom." It's more than just an emotional rendition of a tune; it's like grief in aural form.

Glenn Kenny

@policomic: Shite. Was thinking "Satin Doll," and my fingers typed out "Sophisticated Lady." I'd take this as a sign of early-onset Alzheimer's, but I've done it a lot, and your comment finally made me figure out why—the Satin Doll of the Strayhorn/Ellington song is indeed rather sophisticated, as in "speaks Latin," as per Johnny Mercer's lyrics. Trips me up almost every time.


@greg mottola: I'm sorry if this comment isn't connected to Billy Strayhorn.

I'm a big fan of greg's work, I believe I've seen it almost all - from daytrippers to freaks and undeclared - so I'm very curious to know whether your "Lush life" script could be found and read. If I'm not asking too much.

Sorry if this fan commment is out of place here, I'm enjoying the blog.


Slaven, Italy

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