Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life



I0 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 6
KCET (Los Angeles)

PBS' great series "Independent Lens" continues to enrich the airwaves, this time with another feature-length documentary, "Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life," which takes an in-depth look at one of American music's greatest composers.

Strayhorn led a relatively undisclosed life -- at least to his public -- writing for Duke Ellington and pretty much staying in the background. Just in time for Black History Month, this incisive, original docu puts him front and center, unlocking many keys to Strayhorn's gifts.

Filmmaker Robert Levi takes a leisurely but inquisitive stroll into Strayhorn's journey from poor kid growing up in Pittsburgh to his first meetings with Ellington and on to his contributions to American music as a pioneering jazz composer, arranger and pianist. As a teenager, Strayhorn knew he was gay, but in the days of his late youth in the 1930s, the U.S. could hardly tolerate a interracial group of musicians playing together, much less a black man who was talented and gay.

Strayhorn's sexual orientation was only one component of his life that he didn't publicly display. His great talents seemed always to take one step back from Ellington. This well-rounded view of Strayhorn's life has many riches to offer.