Duke Ellington

Blood Count

Composed by Billy Strayhorn

Song Review by

Billy Strayhorn's final completed compositions prior to his death on May 31, 1967 was "Blood Count." Strayhorn, who was in severe pain from a form of esophageal cancer, wrote this song as he lay dying in the hospital. He communicated the suffering, anguish and hopelessness of his battle with the deadly illness by writing this mournful ballad. Duke Ellington performed the work in concert a few times prior to his alter ego's passing, though the official version wasn't taped until August, 1967, for the historic RCA LP And His Mother Called Him Bill. Evidently, the piece had such an impact on Ellington that he never again played the song following this studio session.

The haunting theme of "Blood Count" has attracted many artists to it; Stan Getz and Jimmy Rowles each recorded several different interpretations. Some of the others who made extraordinary recordings of the song include Art Farmer, Marian McPartland, Dominque Eade (who added her powerful lyrics to it) and Joe Henderson. The most unusual arrangement is by Bobby Watson, who briefly segues into a startling up tempo passage, momentarily reducing the impact of Strayhorn's monumental final contribution to jazz.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
...And His Mother Called Him Bill 1967 BMG International 4:18
Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington [Cassette] 1994 Buddha Records / Buddah 4:16
No Image 1997 BMG Special Products 4:18
Highlights from the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition, 1927-1973 2000 RCA Victor 4:16
The Very Best of Duke Ellington 2000 BMG / Sony BMG / Sony Music Entertainment
The Satin Doll Collection 2003 Collectables 4:18
A Centennial Salute 2003 Unidisc
blue highlight denotes editor's pick