Billy Strayhorn Interview

That's another thing. I'll tell you what I was trying to do—the original idea of "A" train. I was always a great fan of Fletcher Henderson's. He wrote so many wonderful arrangements. One day, I was thinking about his style the way he wrote for trumpets, trombones and saxophones, and I thought I would try something like that.

Now this was a combination of circumstances. At the end of 1940, there was a fight between ASCAP and radio, and at the beginning of 1941, all ASCAP music was off the air. When we opened at the Casa Mana, the third of January 1941, we had airtime every night, but could not play our library. We had to play non-ASCAP material. Duke was in ASCAP, but I wasn't. So we had to write a new library, and "A" train was one of the numbers.

The reason we gave it that title was because they were building the Sixth Avenue subway at that time, and they then tuned off and went to the Bronx, but the "A" train kept straight on up to 200 and Something Street. People got confused. They'd take the "D" train and it would go the Harlem and 145th Street, but the next stop would be on Eight Avenue under the Polo Grounds and the one after that would be in the Bronx. So I said I was writing directions—Take the "A" train to Sugar Hill. The "D" Train was really messing up everybody. I heard so many times about housewives who ended up in the Bronx and had to turn around and come back.

("Take the 'A' Train," World of Duke Ellington by Stanley Dance. Published by DaCapo Press, New York, 1970. 32-33.)

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