Billy Strayhorn - Jazz - Blog

We've got plenty of diversity amongst our music festivals. Chicago has festivals dedicated to rock music, world music, jazz music, electronic music... you get the point. However, what we don’t have too much of are festivals dedicated to one artist in particular. That’s changing this month when the Music Institute of Chicago brings us the Billy Strayhorn Festival on Oct. 26 through 28


If Strayhorn’s name is unfamiliar, you might recognize his longtime collaborator and close colleague Duke Ellington. Strayhorn served as the primary songwriter and arranger for Ellington’s orchestra for years before his life was cut short by cancer in 1967. The renowned jazz composer was essential to Ellington’s long endearing success and Strayhorn is responsible for songs such as Take the ‘A’ Train and “Chelsea Bridge.”

The Music Institute of Chicago is dedicated the final weekend of October to the celebration of this inspirational composer’s life and work at the Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston, IL (1490 Chicago Ave.)--just north of downtown Chicago.

The festival opens on Friday (Oct. 26) night with a screening of the documentary Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life. The film focuses on Strayhorn’s life as an African American composer and pianist and one of only a few openly gay jazz musicians of his time. A panel discussion with filmmakers, musicians and educators will follow the screening.

On Saturday (Oct. 27), Grammy-award-winning jazz trumpeter Terrell Stafford will be performing his latest album This Side of Strayhorn alongside his jazz quintet. The album received notable critical acclaim in 2011 when it was released and is a wonderful modern rendition of some of Strayhorn’s best work. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall.

Things wrap up on Sunday (Oct. 28) with an afternoon concert celebrating Strayhorn’s dedication to collaboration. Trumpeter Terrel Stafford will be joining members of the Music Institute’s jazz faculty on stage at Nichols Concert Hall starting at 3 p.m. 

Individual tickets are available for FridaySaturday and Sunday’s events at  $10, $30 and $30, respectively. However, if you’re game for the full festival, a “3Pass” allowing admission for all events is available for $65. In a city like Chicago that’s so rich with jazz music, this is your chance to learn something about a composer that inspired thousands of careers.