ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY staffers have published an impressive number of books during the magazine’s short life — in fact, I’m suspicious about how they find the time. But the latest has made quite a noise in publishing circles. General editor David Hajdu’s Lush Life, a biography of jazz musician Billy Strayhorn, is the first in-depth look at the graceful man who shied from the limelight, working intimately with Duke Ellington as ace songwriter and arranger from 1939 until his death in 1967. It was Strayhorn who wrote Ellington’s signature song ”Take the ‘A’ Train,” as well as such standards as ”Lush Life” and ”Something to Live For,” but because the jazzman chose to live his life quietly — yet openly — as a homosexual, few people outside his world knew just how important Strayhorn was to music.
Now they will. The result of more than 400 interviews conducted over 11 years, Lush Life has received glowing reviews and made the Los Angeles Times best-seller list. Movie rights have been optioned by screenwriter Jay Cocks (The Age of Innocence, the upcoming Titanic); Irwin Winkler (Rocky, GoodFellas) has come aboard as producer.
Hajdu, 41, a passionate scholar of jazz, came to EW in November 1990 as our video section’s senior editor. He now supervises EW’s video and multimedia coverage, our parents’ guides, and the EW Metro section.
”Over 30 of the people I interviewed have since died,” says Hajdu, who traveled from his Manhattan home as far afield as Paris and St. Croix to seek out Strayhorn’s friends and associates. ”The most rewarding part for me is to feel that I’m honoring a time in music history that was disappearing even as I wrote.” Of course, it’s also rewarding that his children — Jacob, 13, and Victoria, 10 — now know the words to ”Take the ‘A’ Train,” as well as what Dad was doing all those nights when he wasn’t chronicling pop culture: He was preserving a classic part of its history.
James W. Seymore Jr., Managing Editor