LUSH LIFE

A BIOGRAPHY OF BILLY STRAYHORN

Hajdu (an editor at Entertainment Weekly) has found a perfect subject in Strayhorn, a little-studied figure central to jazz history, the composer of such famous Ellington-band pieces as ``Chelsea Bridge,'' ``Lush Life,'' and ``Take the A Train.'' ``Strays'' (also known as ``Swee' Pea''), born in 1915, grew up working-class in Pittsburgh and had high-society aspirations from the start: He wrote an entire Gershwin-like musical revue a year out of high school, full of sophisticated recitative and advanced harmony. He yearned for a career in concert music. But, as Hajdu points out, he was a ``triple minority'': black, gay, and unwilling to hide his homosexuality. His break came in 1938, when he met Duke Ellington; possessed of both a supernal cool and a tenacious business sense, Ellington knew Strayhorn was gifted and worked out a deal. Hajdu meticulously recreates this unusual agreement: Ellington gave Strayhorn free rein to let his Ellington- influenced composistional sense run wild, but he gave Strays no by-line (and, as Strayhorn would find out, no publishing royalties). At first, Strayhorn submitted to Ellington's benevolent dictatorship. Eventually, though, his compositions moved beyond Ellington's influence; as he grew increasingly depressed by his obscurity, he transcended the ghost-writing arrangement to achieve his own, dark style and a small measure of fame. As one of his friends told Hajdu, both Ellington's and Strayhorn's music was great, the difference was that Strayhorn's ``was so full of feeling.'' This is jazz history as it has seldom been written before, covering both Strayhorn's powerful music and difficult life as well as the hidden history of New York's black and gay artists from the 1930s until Strayhorn's death in 1967. Hajdu gets deeply felt and non-mythologizing input from important members of Strayhorn's protective circle, including ex-lovers and close friends (Lena Horne's reminiscences are extraordinarily moving). A good idea done right.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-374-19438-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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