Billy Strayhorn (Frank Lawson) ever hear of him? Probably not.
Well for one thing, he was the love of Lena Horne's (Michole Briana White) life and most importantly he co-wrote some of Duke Ellington's (Boise Holmes) hits. He also happened to be black and gay which is not exactly a great combination for someone living in the 1920's.
When we first meet Billy, he is being whipped by his father (also played by Boise Holmes) because he is wasting his time playing the piano instead of working a real job. Through a mutual friend, Billy is introduced to Duke Ellington who invites Billy to visit him in New York.
Billy, a brilliant piano prodigy and song writer, does just that. He not only blows Duke away by his piano playing but by his killer song writing ability as well. Billy is one talented dude and Mr. Ellington doesn't hesitate to take advantage of it.
The play follows Billy as he quickly becomes Duke's protégé, writing some of his greatest hits. Billy and Duke forged a unique partnership that brought jazz to a new level. We also get to experience Billy's relationship with the great Lena Horne, where they found in each other the perfect soul mate, a platonic relationship full of love and artistry.
Complicating matters was the passion between Billy and his lover, the singer/pianist Aaron Bridges (Gilbert Glenn Brown). But what really stands out in this production is the greatest music ever written and we hear and see it performed by an incredibly talented cast and a brilliant six-piece orchestra including Quentin Dennard (Drums), Michael Saucier (Bass) Rickey Woodard (Sax) Eric Butler (Trumpet) and the extraordinary Stephen Terry on Keyboard.
The play celebrates three giants of music in the big band era while exploring what it was like to be black in a time where no matter how famous you were, you were still judged by the color of your skin.
When Jazz Had the Blues is directed by John Henry Davis and written by Carole Eglash-Kosoff with choreography by Cassie Crump. It's a wonderful production and one that you do not want to miss.
Through December 18th at the Matrix Theatre.
Tickets: Online at www.plays4411.com/jazzblues or call 323-960-7776