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Various Artists : Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life

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Throughout his career, Billy Strayhorn made incomparable art out of the bittersweet regions of human experience. From “Lush Life” to “Blood Count,” his were often songs of disconsolate heartache, poignant ambivalence or jaded resignation. But Strayhorn, with and without Duke Ellington, also produced some of the most jubilant melodies in jazz. Despite an irresistible urge to overlay his personal history across the emotional topography of his compositions, the music tells a deeper and more complicated tale.

Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life, a new documentary on PBS, attempts to unravel that story over the course of 90 minutes. Taking a page or two from David Hajdu’s similarly titled biography of a decade ago, the film focuses on Strayhorn’s experience as an openly gay African-American composer, perpetually stationed just outside the spotlight’s glare. A companion soundtrack, produced by Robert Levi, features several prominent artists from the Blue Note Records roster. Even judged apart from the film, their contributions add up to a potent homage.

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