Blood Count

Yesterday I was listening to Jazz Record Requests on BBC Radio 3 and a piece cropped up that reminded me that today, 29th November 2009, would have been the 94th birthday of the great composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn.

The piece that came up wasn’t specifically chosen to mark Strayhorn’s birthday but I thought I’d put it up here because it is so beautifully poignant.  Strayhorn collaborated extensively with Duke Ellington over the years, producing some of the most gorgeous music to emerge from the 20th century in any genre.

Although apparently started some time earlier, Blood Count was the last piece completed by Billy Stayhorn who put the final touches to it while he was in hospital suffering from a terminal cancer. It was first performed after his death in 1967 by Duke Ellington’s orchestra as a tribute, with Johnny Hodges‘  alto sax taking the lead. Hodges was never a speed merchant on the alto sax, but his big warm sound, beautiful tone and poised lyricism won him huge admiration from all parts of the jazz spectrum, including John Coltrane who described him as “The World’s Greatest Saxophone Player”. High praise indeed, but listening to this performance it’s hard to disagree! Heartfelt but dignified, it’s not just a fitting eulogy for Strayhorn, but a lovely piece in its own right.

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