Ensemble Pays Tribute to Strayhorn, Ellington
Kanny, Mark, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble wraps up its 2007 season with a double-barreled tribute to Pittsburgher Billy Strayhorn, the great jazz composer and arranger who died in 1967 and is immortally linked with Duke Ellington.
This weekend's concerts will feature the world premiere of David Passmore's "Billy Strayhorn A/K/A" before turning to jazz-combo performances of Strayhorn's music.
"I actually always been fascinated with jazz," says Passmore, a Toronto native who studied classical piano and composition in college and graduate school. He also studied jazz piano for about a year. "I got the flavor of it, actually."
Like other classical musicians who love jazz, Passmore knew some of Strayhorn's music from recordings of Duke Ellington and his band. But when he accepted the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble's commission to write a tribute piece, he had just the excuse to delve more deeply into an enthusiasm.
Passmore, 53, read David Hajou's biography of Strayhorn titled "Lush Life," after one of Strayhorn's well-known songs.
"In reading through the biography, I noticed the many nicknames that were given to Billy based on his personal attributes," Passmore says. The nicknames became the titles of his piece's six movements.
He also learned details of Strayhorn's life growing up in Pittsburgh. His genius was recognized while a student at Westinghouse High School where he was soloist in Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto. Strayhorn wrote songs and shows in Pittsburgh, but the best job he could get here was working a soda fountain. …