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Ellington and Strayhorn: A Celebration

Presented by Reed College and the International Duke Ellington Study Group

Portland Ore (October 8, 2015)--Reed College is excited to partner with the International Duke Ellington Study Group for its 23rd conference to present Ellington and Strayhorn: A Celebration, November 6 through 8, 2015. The event will commemorate the 100th birthday of jazz great Billy Strayhorn, who was Duke Ellington’s main collaborator from 1939 until his death in 1967. Strayhorn penned many songs, including, “Take The ‘A’ Train” and “Lush Life,” and he co-wrote “Satin Doll.”

Jazz is usually thought of as a performer's art, but at the center of the jazz canon is music by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, two of the greatest composers of the 20th century. For the centenary of Strayhorn's birth, the world’s foremost jazz scholars will convene on the campus of Reed College to explore the creative partnership of these great composers and musicians.

Performers include clarinetist David Shifrin, and, joining forces for the first time, Portland's international jazz stars Rebecca Kilgore (vocals) and Darrell Grant (piano) performing songs by Billy Strayhorn. Scholars and performers include:

Keynote Speaker: Walter van de Leur, author of Something to Live For: The Music of Billy Strayhorn. Van de Leur is a professor of jazz and improvised music at the University of Amsterdam. He received the 2003 Irving Lowens Book Award for Distinguished Scholarship from the Society of American Music.

Harvey C. Cohen, author of Duke Ellington's America. As senior lecturer at King's College, London, Cohen writes and teaches mainly about the history and business of the music and film industries. Currently on a yearlong Leverhulme fellowship to work on his third book, which focuses on African American gospel music, Cohen is frequently interviewed about Ellington in the popular media.

David Schiff, author of The Ellington Century. Known worldwide, Schiff is a composer, writer, and conductor whose music draws on elements of jazz, rock, and klezmer styles. He is the author of The Music of Elliott Carter and George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, as well as many articles on music for the New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly. He is the R.P. Wollenberg Professor of Music at Reed College.

Willie Ruff, Yale School of Music, founder of the Duke Ellington Fellowship. Ruff is a musician, writer, and educator. At 14, he lied about his age to join the army, where he met 19-year-old piano genius Ivory Dwike Mitchell. After formal training, the two reunited as the Mitchell-Ruff Duo and opened for luminaries such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, and Dizzy Gillespie. Ruff continues to teach, make musical documentaries, and lecture internationally.

David Shifrin, Artistic Director of Chamber Music Northwest. Shifrin has served as principal clarinetist for orchestras throughout the U.S. and internationally. He has collaborated with distinguished ensembles and artists, including the Tokyo String Quartet, the Emerson String Quartet, Wynton Marsalis, and pianists Emanuel Ax and André Watts. Shifrin is on the faculty at the Yale School of Music. His recordings have consistently garnered praise and awards, including three Grammy nominations.

Lisa Barg, Schulich School of Music at McGill University. Barg is currently finishing a book, Day Dream: Billy Strayhorn, Queer History and Midcentury Jazz. An article from this project, “Queer Encounters in the Music of Billy Strayhorn,” was awarded the 2014 Philip Brett Award for excellence in LGBTQ musicology. Her research focuses on the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality in 20th-century music, modernism, jazz, and popular music.

Other scholars include Carl Woideck, University of Oregon; Matt Cooper, Eastern Oregon University; and Luca Bragalini, Conservatory in L'Aquila, Italy. For more on how to register visit

The funding for these events comes in part from the Reed College Greenberg Distinguished Scholar Program, which was established on the occasion of Reed’s centennial with a gift from Dan Greenberg and his wife and philanthropic partner Susan Steinhauser. The program aims to bring visiting scholars to campus to stimulate and support the work of students and provide faculty with the opportunity for in-depth intellectual exchange with a prominent member in their field.

For the complete listing of participants, extended bios, and schedule of performances, visit