cover image Lush Life

Lush Life

David Hajdu. Farrar Straus Giroux, $27.5 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-374-19438-3

Hajdu, taking his title from one of Strayhorn's youthful works, deftly chronicles the life of the gifted composer, arranger and pianist about whom little has been known until now. Strayhorn (1915-1967), often called Duke Ellington's alter ego, collaborated with the legendary bandleader for more than 25 years, yet remained in his shadow; few outside the music world realized he composed and wrote the lyrics for ""Take the `A' Train"" and many other pieces often attributed to Ellington. Drawing on interviews with Strayhorn's friends, family and fellow musicians, Hajdu, an editor at Entertainment Weekly, brings his subject out of obscurity, showing him to be a complex, shy, charming genius whose extraordinary talents were recognized mainly by other musicians and members of an elite circle of black performers, artists and writers who adored him. The extent to which Ellington deliberately kept him in the background is unclear, but Strayhorn seems to have preferred this arrangement; without the need to pursue a career on his own, he could be open about his homosexuality at a time when most gay men kept their sexual orientation secret. He died tragically of cancer of the esophagus at 52. Photos not seen by PW. (June)