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Music Institute Celebrates Jazz Master Billy Strayhorn: "Lush Life" Screening and Panel Discussion

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Honoring the work and legacy of one of the great jazz composers and collaborators, the Music Institute of Chicago presents a Billy Strayhorn Festival October 26–28. The festival, presented in partnership with Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc., a family corporation of the Strayhorn heirs, includes two star-studded concerts featuring trumpet great Terell Stafford and a screening of the award-winning film Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life followed by a panel discussion. The festival takes place at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

Billy Strayhorn (1915–67) was one of the greatest composers in the history of American music, the creator of a body of work that includes such standards as “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Chelsea Bridge,” and “Lush Life.” Yet, all his life, Strayhorn was overshadowed by his friend and collaborator Duke Ellington, with whom he worked for three decades as the Ellington Orchestra’s primary songwriter and arranger. While composing some of the most gorgeous American music of this century, Strayhorn labored under a complex agreement whereby Ellington took the bows for his work; until his life was tragically cut short by cancer and alcohol abuse, the small, shy black composer carried himself with singular style and grace as one of the few jazzmen to be openly homosexual. (This text is courtesy of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

Friday, October 26, 7:30 p.m.—Film Screening and Panel Discussion

The festival kicks off with a screening of Robert Levi’s recently updated, highly acclaimed documentary Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life, which uncovers the mystery behind the complex life of this pioneering African-American composer, arranger, and pianist. The film features world premieres of his music featuring singers Elvis Costello and Dianne Reeves, pianists Hank Jones and Bill Charlap, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and guitarist Russell Malone. With interviews, performances, and archival footage, Lush Life showcases Strayhorn’s gifts and illuminates the issues that deprived him of deserved recognition. In 2008, Lush Life became the first program in broadcast history to receive three important awards in one year: the Emmy Award for Best Documentary of the Year, the George Foster Peabody Award for Broadcast Excellence, and the Writers Guild Award for Best Documentary Screenplay. The film was also one of three documentaries to make New York Magazine’s Top Ten Best Television Events list.

For the post-screening discussion, panelists include Henry Louis Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University; filmmaker Robert Levi; Victor Goines, director of jazz studies at Northwestern University; Strayhorn biographer David Hajdu; trumpeter Terell Stafford; and WBEZ 91.5 FM broadcaster Richard Steele.

The festival continues Saturday, October 27 with the Terell Stafford Quintet performing This Side of Strayhorn and Sunday, October 28 with a performance by Terell Stafford, Music Institute of Chicago jazz faculty, reedist Victor Goines, vocalist Tammy McCann, and the Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble.

The Billy Strayhorn Festival takes place at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. The screening of Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life and panel discussion take place Friday, October 26 at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $10. The Terell Stafford Quintet performs Saturday, October 27 at 7:30 p.m. and with the Music Institute of Chicago jazz studies faculty and special guests Sunday, October 28 at 3 p.m. Tickets to each concert are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students. A “3PASS” for all three events offers a savings of $10. Tickets are available online or 847.905.1500 ext. 108. For more information visit musicinst.org.

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