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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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Billie Holiday

The Diva Series

VERVE 065 204-2

 

    1. Them There Eyes
    2. Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer
    3. Easy Livin’
    4. Don’t Explain
    5. Billie’s Blues
    6. Love Me or Leave Me
    7. Just one of Those Things
    8. Good Morning Heartache
    9. Speak Low
    10. All or Nothing At All
    11. Strange Fruit
    12. God Bless the Child
    13. I Wished on the Moon
    14. What a Little Moonlight Can do
    15. Fine and mellow
    16. Lady Sings the Blues

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 front line.

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 blues performance.

 

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.

 

Don Mather

 

 



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