Billie Holiday lead an extraordinary life,
a life of excesses and it is a tragic story that such an accomplished
singer should have lead such a poor existence. George Evans
who selected the tracks for this compilation has selected some
of her finest works recorded with some of the greatest names
in jazz. There is some excellent tenor for example on the first
track from Budd Johnson. The Bob Haggart tracks (3 & 4)
have a heavy string section that helps to bring out the quality
of Billie’s unique voice.
Billie’s Blues has a trio in support with Eddie
Haywood on piano, John Simmons on bass and Big Sid Catlett on
drums. It is a classic blues performance, from an artist who
sang the blues with total conviction. Love Me or Leave Me was
recorded in 1954 with Harry Ediswan on trumpet, Willie Smith
on alto, Bobby Tucker on piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, Red
Callender on bass and Chico Hamilton on drums, quite a heavyweight
combination! Just On of Those Things has another all-star line-up,
this time Ben Webster is included on tenor. Good Morning Heartache
has Charlie Shavers, Tony Scott and Paul Quinichette on the
The 1956 recording of Speak Low has Ben Webster
back with Barney Kessel and a fine rhythm section, it is noticeable
that there is a hardening of Billie’s voice between ‘54 and
‘56. All or Nothing at All is another ‘56 track this time with
Harry Ediswan and Ben Webster, although neither solos.
Strange Fruit was recorded in 1939, it is a
protest song about the hanging of Negroes in the Southern States,
it had considerable impact and it must have been a very brave
song to sing and record in 1939.
God Bless the Child is a song that many singers
have included in their programme, but everyone acknowledges
that Billie had the definitive version. I Wished on the Moon
is a great song, this version was recorded in 1957 with Harry
Ediswan and Ben Webster and the latter takes an excellent solo,
which is a Webster classic. What a Little Moonlight is recorded
with Oscar Peterson, I suspect that Billie was with Jazz at
the Phil around this period, Oscar as usual plays with great
swing and technical excellence.
The 1956 Fine and Mellow is a blues with a
front line of Buck Clayton trumpet, Tony Scott clarinet and
Al Cohn tenor, it was recorded in Carnegie Hall in NYC. Billie
was one of the finest interpreters of the blues of all times.
The audience obviously agree!
Lady Sings the Blues was the title chosen for
the film that was made about Billie’s life, again its an inspired
Billie Holiday played a very important role
in the development of jazz singers. Many have since made a good
living, probably better than the one she did, singing her repertoire.
This is a good compilation of her work.