by Billy Strayhorn, 1949
I used to visit all the very gay places,
Those come what may places.
Where one relaxes on the axis
Of the wheel of life
To get the feel of life
From jazz and cocktails.
The girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces
With distingue' traces
That used to be there, you could see where
They'd been washed away
By too many through the day.
Twelve o'clock tales.
Then you came along with your siren song,
To tempt me to madness.
I thought for a while that your poignant smile,
Was tinged with a sadness of a great love for me.
Ah yes, I was wrong
Again I was wrong.
Life, is lonely again
And only, last year
Everything seemed so sure.
Now life, is awful again
A trough full of heart
could only be a bore.
A week in Paris will ease the bite of it.
All I care is to smile in spite of it
I'll forget you, I will
While yet you are still
Burning inside my brain.
Romance is mush
Stifling those who strive.
I'll live a lush life in some small dive.
And there I'll be while I rot with the rest
Of those whose lives are lonely too.
Johnny Hartmann and Coltrane's recording of Strayhorn's musically lush "Lush Life" ranks among the best, if not the best.
The expression of melancholy in art is easily one of the most valid. Certainly at this time of year it is apt to be right there when one least expects it. The catharsis afforded by Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" is sweet and sad expression at its sophisticated best. Strayhorn is one of the more important artistic vocies of the twentieth century. Pictured is the cover of David Hajdu's loving biography of Ellington's associate. Hajdu wrote for Jazziz in 1996: "Strayhorn lived in the singularly gigantic and mobile shadow of Duke Ellington, a hiding place so accommodating that Strayhorn could do a great deal there in the dark and elude sight in comfort ... I was ultimately engaged by the extraordinary story of Strayhorn's life -- a certain secret history of not only jazz but also gay culture, Harlem life, Paris and the civil rights movement."
Strayhorn, one of the musical giants of the last century which itself will stand up -- certainly -- in history as one of the musically significant, was a black, gay man. His close relationship with Lena Horne brought forth from her this: "He became my brother, but I also fell in love with him, and he loved me ... I never knew a man like that ... There will never be another man like that. It's so hard to talk about him, but it's so good to remember. People need to remember."
It is good to remember via the sweetly sad, beautiful, sophisticated soul of his music that he was one of the world's greatest secret angels. That beautiful secret need not be a secret anymore.