While you may not know the name Billy Strayhorn, it’s likely that you know of his work, especially if you’re a fan of classic jazz. The late Billy Strayhorn was a prolific jazz composer, lyricist, and pianist who is best known for his work with jazz great Duke Ellington. He composed such jazz standards as Take the ‘A’ Train, Chelsea Bridge, and Lush Life.
Strayhorn was more than just a jazz musician, however. He was also openly gay, and a staunch activist, counted among the close friends of Dr. Martin Luther King. Living as an openly gay man, especially as a black man, during such a highly homophobic era, was especially courageous. Although he was openly gay, he rarely sought out the spotlight, preferring to remain in the background to preserve a sense of privacy and avoid public judgement. Thus, while he was undoubtedly one of the more influential contributors to mid-century American jazz, he often struggled to receive the recognition, as well as his share of the money, from his work.
Strayhorn’s legacy is being retold by Seattle director and producer Tyrone Brown. Brown, in addition to his theater work, is also an accomplished jazz vocalist, and is a strong lover of Strayhorn and his work. Joining Brown is bassist and musical director Nate Omdal, pianist Michael Owcharuk, and drummer Jacques Willis, as the Nate Omdal trio.
Directed by Pamala Mijatov, The Billy Strayhorn Project will feature Brown and the Nate Omdal trio playing original arrangements from the Billy Strayhorn songbook, as well as discussing important moments from the life and times of Strayhorn.
The Billy Strayhorn Project is being presented by Gay City Arts as part of their second arts season, Crossing the Line. Gay City Arts is Gay City’s collaboration with local LGBT artists to galvanize an audience for queer arts, foster the development of LGBT artists, and facilitate accessible artistic excellence. The show runs November 14-15 and 21-22 at Gay City’s Calamus Auditorium at 7:30pm. Tickets and more info are available at gaycity.org/arts-season