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Billie Holiday : On The Sentimental Side

CD:PPCD 78117 / CASSETTE: / RUNNING TIME: 60:58

20 classic love songs performed by THE voice of jazz. 'I Must Have That Man', 'Georgia On My Mind', 'All Of Me'...unmissable.

Practice Makes Perfect
Night And Day
More Than You Know
All Of Me
Them There Eyes
I Must Have That Man << sound clip
Time On My Hands
Let's Do It
Until The Real Thing Comes Along
This Year's Kisses
Georgia On My Mind << sound clip
Sugar
I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
When A Woman Loves A Man << sound clip
The Man I Love
If Dreams Come True
You Go To My Head
I'll Get By
I Can't Get Started
On The Sentimental Side

Billie Holiday's portrait is emblazoned on T-shirts, her performance photographs are widely reproduced on posters, no jazz calendar is complete without her picture, and her recordings are far more extensively distributed now than in her lifetime. New books and video documentaries about her appear regularly and there was even a 1972 feature film based on her life story - the critically mauled 'Lady Sings The Blues', starring Diana Ross.

The woman who continues to exert this wide-ranging influence has been dead for more than thirty-five years. New styles in jazz have come and gone yet the impact of Billie Holiday's vocal creativity continues to endure. Each generation of singers re-discovers her, and it is doubtful whether any vocalist currently active would sing as they do if it were not for her innovations. Her unique timing and dynamic sense, highly individual approach to phrasing and astute ear for harmonic variety have influenced performers as diverse as Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Cleo Laine, Anita O'Day, Frank Sinatra, and yes, Diana Ross.

Much of the commentary on Holiday's life has concentrated on its more tragic aspects. She is sometimes cast as a victim, an iconic figure for feminists and an 'outsider' with an alien lifestyle. While it is true that she became addicted to hard drugs and was over-dependent on alcohol, many of Holiday's contemporaries remember her best as a cheerful, ebullient person who was a generous friend, an enthusiastic cook and a feisty companion. Although she found it difficult to achieve happiness in her non-musical life - her various marriages were largely unsuccessful - Holiday's creative instincts were such that she was immediately at home when invited to work on record and in person with the greatest jazz musicians of the day. They, in turn, were entranced by her talent.

Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Harris in Philadelphia on 7 April 1915, the illegitimate daughter of guitarist Clarence Holiday, a musician best known for his association with Fletcher Henderson. Raised by her mother Sadie in Baltimore, Maryland, the youngster underwent many well-documented vicissitudes before moving with Sadie back to Philadelphia and then to New York where she began to sing while in her mid-teens. Many have claimed to be the agents of her discovery but it seems to be well accepted that the wealthy jazz aficionado and record producer John Hammond heard her first in 1933 at Monette's Supper Club, a night-spot on 133rd Street in Harlem which lasted a mere three weeks. Expecting to hear the established singer-proprietoress Monette Moore, he was bowled over by her unknown substitute, marvelling at this striking, eighteen-year old performer who had by then assumed her lifelong stage identity, taking her father's surname and re-christening herself 'Billie', as a tribute to her favourite film star, Miss Billie Dove. Hammond remembered in his autobiography that 'she sang popular songs in a manner that made them completely her own. She had an uncanny ear, an excellent memory for lyrics, and she sang with an exquisite sense of phrasing. Further, she was absolutely beautiful. I decided that night that she was the best jazz singer I had ever heard'.

It was Hammond who played a vital role in initiating Holiday's recording career. He secured a recording contract with English Columbia for Benny Goodman in 1933 and managed to persuade the clarinettist to invite Billie Holiday to add her vocal skills to one of his dates. Becoming a regular attraction in many of Harlem's clubs, Billie made a short film with Duke Ellington in 1935, and appeared at the Apollo Theatre before beginning her extraordinary on-record association with pianist Teddy Wilson in 1935, again at Hammond's instigation. These sessions (which stretched to 1942) are arguably Miss Holiday's greatest achievement, her exceptional vocal treatments of standards and pop tunes underpinned by the work of the finest jazz musicians of the swing era.

This beautifully restored collection concentrates on key sides from the Wilson series. The late critic Max Jones, always a Billie booster, wrote appreciatively of her 'almost indolent improvising, the freshness and rightness and special rhythmic thrust of each interpretation, the qualities of her sound and style'. All of this and more, is apparent here. Billie re-interprets popular songs, making them her own, detaching the melodic line from its rhythmic accompaniment in the same way as Louis Armstrong, her greatest vocal influence. She sought to phrase like a jazz instrumentalist, buoyant at times, at others more deeply emotional, her exquisite voice always recalling James Lincoln Collier's apt description of 'a wounded poignancy, which was part of her attraction for general audiences.'

Practice Makes Perfect opens with Roy Eldridge's bustling trumpet before a sax riff leads to Holiday's confident vocal, the timbre a touch acidic, her touch as sure as that of Eldridge, whose zesty solo precedes another by tenor-saxophonist Don Byas. Note, too, the smooth writing for the four-man saxophones section and the swingy drumming of Kenny Clarke, the pioneer bebopper. Cole Porter's Night and Day, originally written for a stage musical, was given wider circulation in Fred Astaire's 1934 film 'The Gay Divorcee'. Here, Billie teases out her variations with subtle changes of emphasis, supported by a warm ensemble blend. Pianist Joe Sullivan (substituting for Wilson) is positive and Buck Clayton's trumpet shines through in the introduction. More Than You Know by Vincent Youmans is another great song which has outlived the film for which it was first written. Eldridge is the trumpeter again, Holiday's vocal is pin-sharp for quality and the track is notable for the contributions of two of the most elegant soloists in jazz: pianist Teddy Wilson and alto-saxophonist Benny Carter (still active at the grand age of 87). All Of Me features the piano of Eddie Heywood, then the leader of a popular jazz sextet, and the magisterial tenor of Lester 'Pres' Young, a frequent associate and an important factor in the success of many of these recordings. Incidentally, it was Young who gave Billie the sobriquet 'Lady Day'. The very jaunty Them There Eyes follows, with skittish saxophone by Tab Smith, a Basie-ite who went on to great success in rhythm and blues. Charlie Shavers is the muted trumpeter, the big-toned tenor is by Kenneth Hollon and Billie sounds almost girlish in her enthusiasm.

I Must Have That Man, from 1937, is classic Wilson-Holiday fare, with the added attraction of Young on tenor and Clayton on trumpet plus Benny Goodman's limpid clarinet. Another Vincent Youmans song, Time On My Hands finds Billie in subdued mood, allowing the graceful melody to speak for itself. Eldridge's eloquent trumpet and Young's sinuous tenor are further adornments. Eddie Heywood is the pianist on Let's Do It, taken at an attractive, urgent tempo, with Heywood's characteristic keyboard enterprise well featured as is Young's hot tenor. Once again, it's Kenny Clarke on drums.

Until The Real Thing Comes Along finds Wilson back at the helm. Billie's heartfelt vocal is superb - poignant but life-affirming. Young opens This Year's Kisses, his solo paraphrasing the melody and exactly echoing Billie's phrasing subtleties. Clayton's trumpet rides over the final chorus. Hoagy Carmichael's timeless Georgia On My Mind has been a hit for Mildred Bailey (in 1930), Ray Charles (1960) and country star Willie Nelson (1978). Billie's version is uniquely hers, with Heywood playing more simply than usual. Sugar's tempo is lively with Carter and Eldridge setting the pace for one of Billie's cheeriest vocals before the little-known Ernie Powell gets his turn on tenor. With Irving Berlin's I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm we move back to 1937 to a session which introduces Cab Calloway trumpeter Jonah Jones and tenor-saxophonist Ben Webster, another Billie favourite. She sounds forthright as Edgar Sampson noodles pleasingly on clarinet behind her. Lester Young introduces When A Woman Loves A Man, a Gordon Jenkins song whose Johnny Mercer Lyrics about the hopelessness of love seem to find an echo in Billie's own search for happiness. George Gershwin's The Man I Love is another classic theme with Billie clearly in tune with it's message before Young creates one of his finest solos on record, sombre in tone and superb.

On Edgar Sampson's If Dreams Come True, Billie's vocal is followed by some fine Benny Morton trombone. You Go To My Head is another stately old standard and features saxophonist Irving 'Babe' Russin. Our final selections are all out of Holiday's top drawer: I'll Get By introduces the wonderful, creamy alto sound of Johnny Hodges, the Duke Ellington star, while Vernon Duke's I Can't Get Started is notable for another thoughtful Young solo. Johnny Burke's On The Sentimental Side, originally written for a Bing Crosby movie completes our survey of Billie Holiday at her greatest.

Notes like this usually incline to hyperbole. Not so this time: Billie Holiday is the voice of jazz. The evidence is apparent on every track - sentimental or salty, she is the best.

PETER VACHER



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