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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove



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BILLIE HOLIDAY

The Ben Webster/Harry Edison Sessions

Lonehill Jazz LHJ 10355

 

 

 

CD1
1. Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me
2. Cheek To Cheek
3. Ill Wind
4. Speak Low
5. We'll Be Together Again
6. All Or Nothing At All
7. Sophisticated Lady
8. April In Paris
9. I Wished On The Moon
10. Moonlight In Vermont
11. A Foggy Day
12. Comes Love (Version 1)
13. I Didn't Know What Time It Was
14. Just One Of Those Things
15. Comes Love (Version 2)
16. Day In, Day Out
17. But Not For Me
 
CD2
1. Darn That Dream
2. Body And Soul
3. Just Friends
4. Stars Fell On Alabama
5. Say It Isn't So
6. Love Is Here To Stay
7. One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)
8. They Can't Take That Away From Me
9. Embraceable You
10. Let's Call The Whole Thing Off
11. Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good To You
12. Announcement by Johnny Mercer
13. Oh, Lady Be Good (Theme)
14. Nice Work If You Can Get It
15. Willow, Weep For Me
16. My Man
17. Lover, Come Back To Me
18. Lady Sings The Blues
19. What A Little Moonlight Can Do
20. Oh, Lady Be Good (Theme and Closing Announcements)

 
Billie Holiday - Vocals
Ben Webster - Tenor sax (tracks I/1-17, II/1-11)
Harry "Sweets" Edison - Trumpet (tracks I/1-17, II/1-11)
Jimmy Rowles - Piano (tracks I/1-17, II/1-11)
Barney Kessel - Guitar (tracks I/1-17, II/1-11)
Joe Mondragon - Bass (tracks I/1-4)
Red Mitchell - Bass (tracks I/5-17, II/1-11)
Alvin Stoller - Drums (tracks I/1-17, II/1-7)
Larry Bunker - Drums (tracks II/8-11)
Mal Waldron - Piano (tracks II/13-20)
Joe Benjamin - Bass (tracks II/13-20)
Jo Jones - Drums (tracks II/13-20)

 

Here is yet another album which makes me wonder at the brilliance of promoter/producer Norman Granz - and wonderment that so few other people did what he did. His recipe was to assemble jazz artists he admired and let them play more or less what they liked. Certainly he told the musicians the sort of thing he wanted but he trusted them to create exciting sessions, and he was seldom disappointed. This was the method he used for his successful "Jazz at the Philharmonic" concerts and it was also his frequent procedure in the studio. One valuable outcome was that Granz has left us with a huge legacy of recordings by superb jazz artists.

This double album contains the results of a series of such sessions, when Granz put one of his favourite singers - Billie Holiday - together with two of his favourite instrumentalists - tenor-saxist Ben Webster and trumpeter Harry Edison, and let them get on with creating musical magic. The recordings were made at seven separate sessions - in August 1956 and January 1957 - and they are the last small-group studio recordings that Billie made. The final nine tracks on the second CD are a bonus: recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957, two years before Billie died - aged only 44. In fact Billie sings on only six of these tracks, as there is also an introduction from Johnny Mercer and two short versions of Oh, Lady be Good as prelude and postlude.

At this period, Billie's voice was undoubtedly showing the strain of her troubled life, yet her singing still holds one's attention almost hypnotically. Most of the songs she performs are old favourites of hers, including compositions by the pantheon of renowned American composers (Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, etc.). In fact, Billie was performing the Great American Songbook before many of today's young hopeful vocalists were born. Some of these aspiring singers could learn something from the way that Holiday handled a song - for instance, the way she sometimes stays slightly behind the beat to create the tension of syncopation. Or just hear how she makes her voice swerve on the very last note of Body and Soul. Incidentally, Holiday doesn't sing on Just Friends, as she turned up late for the date, but the musicians nevertheless have a ball.

Ben Webster, Harry Edison and Barney Kessel are ideal accompanists for Billie: filling in thoughtfully behind her singing and adding some great solos. There is no doubting the authority in Ben Webster's mature style. Perhaps he was no longer the young lion who so exhilarated us in Duke Ellington's Cottontail, but his more relaxed, seemingly lazy playing matches Billie's vocals. Harry Edison tends to be more extrovert than Ben, but the contrast between the two men's styles adds to the intriguing ambience and helps to stimulate Billie's vocalising. Jimmy Rowles was Billie's pianist for many years, so he knows exactly what to put in and leave out.

The Newport Festival session is equally interesting, with Billie performing to an enthusiastic audience. She is backed by a trio which gives her plenty of space to show her paces. Despite breathing problems limiting her range, Billie could still improvise with convincing feeling. Even at this late stage in her career, she was more adventurous than many other self-proclaimed jazz singers. Her interpretation of My Man can still tug at the emotions, especially (knowing Billie's difficult experiences with men) with the line "He beats me too"

The Virgin Encyclopedia of Jazz calls Billie "the greatest jazz singer there has ever been". I'm not sure that I could be so definite, but she was definitely one of the greatest.

Tony Augarde
 

 

 

 



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