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.