She was one of the first black stars in the media business and the first foremost female jazz singer known to a wider even white skinned audience. Her distinctive delivery made Billie Holiday's performances instantly recognizable throughout her career. A master of improvisation, Billie's well-trained ear more than compensated for her lack of music education. Her voice lacked range and was somewhat thin, plus years of excessive drug use eventually altered its texture and gave it a prepossessing fragility. The emotion with which she imbued each song remained not only intact but also profound.
|First release long play records from Verve label, in the background on the left side the extremely rare record "The Mellow Side of...".|
From that point of view her late recordings are some of the most extraordinary songs in all jazz music history. These late recordings are made by Norman Granz, the founder of Nogran Records (1946), later Clef Records (1953), which got 1956 absorbed into Verve Records. Verve was created just as the twelve-inch long playing album became the industry standard, its ten-inch counterpart for the most part discontinued. Holiday's late recordings on Verve constitute about a third of her commercial recorded legacy and are as popular as her earlier work for the Columbia, Commodore and Decca labels. In later years, her voice became more fragile, but it never lost the edge that had always made it so distinctive.
Holiday's autobiography, "Lady Sings the Blues", was ghostwritten by William Dufty and published in 1956. Dufty, a New York Post writer and editor then married to Holiday's close friend Maely Dufty, wrote the book quickly from a series of conversations with the singer in the Duftys' 93rd Street apartment. He drew on the work of earlier interviewers as well and intended to let Holiday tell her story in her own way. To accompany her autobiography, Holiday released an LP in June 1956 entitled Lady Sings the Blues.
The album featured four new tracks, "Lady Sings the Blues" (title track), "Too Marvelous for Words", "Willow Weep for Me", and "I Thought About You", as well as eight new recordings of Holiday's biggest hits to date. The re-recordings included "Trav'lin' Light", "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child". On December 22, 1956, Billboard magazine reviewed Lady Sings the Blues, calling it a worthy musical complement to her autobiography. "Holiday is in good voice now," said the reviewer, "and these new readings will be much appreciated by her following." "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child" were called classics, and "Good Morning Heartache", another reissued track in the LP, was also noted positively.
On November 10, 1956, Holiday performed two concerts before packed audiences at Carnegie Hall, a major accomplishment for any artist, especially a black artist of the segregated period of american history. Live recordings of the second Carnegie Hall concert were released on a Verve-album in late 1961 called The Essential Billie Holiday. The thirteen tracks included on this album featured her own songs, "I Love My Man", "Don't Explain" and "Fine And Mellow", together with other songs closely associated with her, including "Body and Soul", "My Man", and "Lady Sings the Blues" (her lyrics accompanied a tune by pianist Herbie Nichols).
|Late Release in 1961, but recorded live at Carnegie Hall in 1956, "The Essential Billie Holiday" the narrated autobiography "Lady sings the Blues".|
The liner notes on this album were written partly by Gilbert Millstein of The New York Times, who, according to these notes, served as narrator in the Carnegie Hall concerts. Interspersed among Holiday's songs, Millstein read aloud four lengthy passages from her autobiography "Lady Sings The Blues".
The critic Nat Hentoff of Down Beat magazine, who attended the Carnegie Hall concert, wrote the remainder of the sleeve notes on the 1961 album. He wrote of Holiday's performance:
Throughout the night, Billie was in superior form to what had sometimes been the case in the last years of her life. Not only was there assurance of phrasing and intonation; but there was also an outgoing warmth, a palpable eagerness to reach and touch the audience. And there was mocking wit. A smile was often lightly evident on her lips and her eyes as if, for once, she could accept the fact that there were people who did dig her.
|Several Verve covers are illustrated by the well known designer David Stone-Martin|
Billie Holiday recorded extensively for four labels: Columbia Records, issued on its subsidiary labels Brunswick Records,Vocalion Records, and OKeh Records, from 1933 through 1942; Commodore Records in 1939 and 1944; Decca Records from 1944 through 1950; briefly for Aladdin Records in 1951; Verve Records and on its earlier imprint Clef Records; from 1952 through 1957, then again for Columbia Records from 1957 to 1958 and finally for MGM Records in 1959. Many of Holiday's recordings appeared on 78 rpm records prior to the long-playing vinyl record era, and only Clef, Verve, and Columbia issued Holiday albums during her lifetime that were not compilations of previously released material.
|Early Verve "trumpeter label" (icon by David Stone-Martin) with deep groove indention.|
Lots of records are late published transcriptions of earlier 78 rpm recordings, these are mostly very poor transcripted to vinyl, but the worst quality comes from the early digitalized versions for CD release from the 1990ties. The most of them do sound very poor and thin. The only recordings of quite good sound quality are the Verve records taken in the LP era to be issued on vinyl. Here a quite realistic insight into Billie Holidays performance practice is reproduced. Some of them are previously released as 10'' versions with Clef Records, these first Verve releases are clearly identified by their "trumpeter label". The Nograns, the Clefs and this early "Trumpeter-Verves" are highly collectible, no question that they reach today already serious money lines. Some of them are live recordings and give a good idea of the presence and intimacy of Holidays performances at this period. Unforgotten is the recording taken in Los Angeles during a gig in a private club were you can here the airplanes of the nearby airport crossing the club.
The long play Verve albums are the records with the best fidelity available from the Billie Holidays legacy. Amoung them is the studio record Songs for Distingue Lovers, the only true stereo recording of all of them.
|One of the best recorded albums from the Verve series, as far as I know, the only true stereo recording of all Verve albums with Billie Holiday.|
Read on soon about other lady singers like Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln or Cassandra Wilson, Volker
For further informations and discography look:
"Full of lies, But It Gets at Jazz Great's Corre" San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 31, 2010.
and some basic informations from wikipedia