Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MAGICAL BONDS #2: Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn

Continuing in jazz mode, after the post on Billie Holiday and Lester Young (here), a look at Ellington & Strayhorn.

Duke Ellington's a name is widely recognised internationally, not so the name of Billy Strayhorn - outside of the jazz-fan world that is. Part of the reason could be that, as is so often the case in collaborations, the best-known artist gets the credit. This was often a deliberate ploy to sell more records or concert seats, but in the process some gifted people (and Billy Strayhorn is a good example), remain in the overbearing shadow of a "celebrity".

Ellington once described composer and collaborator Billy Strayhorn as "my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head, and his in mine." Their collaboration spanned almost 30 years, and produced many legendary musical compositions: Chelsea Bridge," "Day Dream," "Johnny Come Lately," "Clementine", "Take the A Train", "Lotus Blossom". Strayhorn also collaborated with. Ellington on many of his suites: "Deep South Suite," the "Shakespearean Suite, the "Peer Gynt Suite" for example. He and Ellington composed the "Queen's Suite" and gave the only pressing to Queen Elizabeth II of England. Two of their suites, "Jump for Joy", and "My People", had as their themes the struggles and triumphs of African Americans to achieve racial equality.

As in the relationship between Holiday and Young, the Ellington/Strayhorn collaboration wasn't always sweetness and light. These were two very different personalities, yet with a common professional bond. Strayhorn was said to be quiet, complex and sensitive, gay in an era when gayness was neither understood nor accepted. Ellington had the reputation of being something of a narcissist, an ebullient showman, and a womaniser.
"He (Strayhorn) was both antithesis and metaphor to Ellington. He knew Ellington's mind so well that he could and often did compose sections of the same suite, sections indistinguishable from Ellington's contributions. Yet I was intrigued by the musical difference between them. To me, Strayhorn expressed the feminine side of Ellington. There is a delicately blended mixture of male and female in all of us, and in the music they created together Ellington and Strayhorn completed this balance."

Strayhorn died in 1967 at age 51, from cancer of the oesophagus.
"When he heard the news, Ellington was devastated and would not leave his bed for several days. A few months later, Ellington brought his band into the studio to record "...and his mother called him Bill", an all-Strayhorn tribute album."

Is the undeniable bond between these two men discernible from their natal charts?

Duke Ellington, born in Washington DC on 29 April 1899, at 1.25am (Astrotheme).

Billy Strayhorn, born in Dayton, Ohio on 29 November 1915 at 4.15am (Astrotheme).

There are some very clear links between their natal planets and ascendant degrees:
Strayhorn's natal Sun and Ellington's Uranus are conjunct at 6 and 7 degrees of Sagittarius.

Ellington's Rising degree and Strayhorn's natal Uranus are conjunct at 8 and 12 degrees of Aquarius (Uranus' home sign).

Ellington's Moon/Saturn conjunction and Strayhorn's natal Venus are conjoined at 23 and 25 Sagittarius.

Ellington's Jupiter and Strayhorn's rising degree are close at 4 and 7 degrees of Scorpio.

Ellington's Mars and Strayhorn's Neptune are close at 5 and 2 degrees of Leo.
The links involve Venus planet of music and the arts, Uranus planet of invention (musical composition is a kind of invention). Sun = self. Saturn = work and business. The ascendant = the part of self shown to the world at large.

Signs involved are Sagittarius (philosophy, expansion); Aquarius (invention, social awareness); Scorpio (passion and intensity) and Leo (show business).

The astrological links are very appropriate to the links in their professional life involving music, composition, business, performing on stage, and some civil rights action and support.

However, in the face of all that compatibility on a professional level, these two were quite unlike personally and their natal Suns in scratchy quincunx aspect to one another - 8 Taurus and 6 Sagittarius is testament to that.




anyjazz said...

Good piece. Very informative. I will try to find some of the music you mention in the library and play them in a concert some evening. They really are distinctive.

Twilight said...

Thanks Anyjazz! Well, I'll look forward to that then. (As long as it doesn't involve any shrieking trumpet playing) ;-)

Wisewebwoman said...

I had heard of Strayhorn (being in love with his oh so appropriate name!) but not in the detail you offered, T.
Well done, I always learn something here and am pleased that so does Himself!!

anthonynorth said...

Duke Ellington is another of my favourites. some good choices being made here.

Twilight said...

WWW and AN ~~~~ Glad you found it interesting. :-)

Shawn Carson said...

the sympathy bond is illustrated by strayhorns venus to ellingtons moon /saturn/ neptune, as you pointed out, and the magic of their music was born of the mars/ neptune contact. ellington was so totally cool, i would have loved to be in his band!
Thanks, twilight!

Twilight said...

Shawn ~~~ Yes, the links there are very clear, I thought. Amazing really!

I listened to some of Strayhorn's own compositions the other night, they are quite beautiful, delicate & tender. I think of the pair I would have like Strayhorn better than Ellington. :-)