The towering talent of composer Billy Strayhorn depended on and also suffered from his relationship with Duke Ellington. Both onstage and off, the garrulous, glamorous Ellington easily overshadowed the shy and less ambitious Strayhorn; yet it was through their collaboration that Strayhorn achieved his own lasting fame and happiness. Certainly, Strayhorn’s most famous composition–the precociously sophisticated “Lush Life,” for which he wrote both music and lyrics while in his late teens–would have achieved immortality in any case. But other Strayhorn classics, such as “Passion Flower,” “Lotus Blossom,” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” (the Ellington theme song that was in fact written by Strayhorn), would probably never have even taken shape without the participation of the Ellington band. Strayhorn has slowly emerged from the shadows in recent years, thanks to a number of artists devoting albums to his work and, just this year, David Hajdu’s widely praised biography Lush Life (published by Farrar Straus Giroux). One of the most intriguing albums is the most recent: Portrait of a Silk Thread (Kokopelli), which features newly discovered Strayhorn compositions. This weekend’s benefit extravaganza for the Strayhorn Scholarship Fund will present many of these previously unrecorded works, played by the Chicago-based Jazz Idiom Orchestra under the direction of pianist Gene Esposito. The concert also stars pianist Fred Hersch–who applied his control of technique and tonal nuance to extracting all the bittersweet joy from Strayhorn’s tunes on his own Strayhorn tribute, Passion Flower (Nonesuch)–and the unaffectedly beguiling songstress Rosemary Clooney. Clooney’s success as a true jazz singer stems from the ancient arts of subtlety (in her phrasing) and elegance (in her choice of which notes to sing and, more important, which not to sing). Sunday, 5 PM, Paramount Arts Centre, 23 E. Galena, Aurora; 404-9316 or 902-1500.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Fred Hersh photo by Rick Leutke/ Rosemary Clooney photo by Deborah Feingold.