- Audio CD (15 Jan. 1996)
- Number of Discs: 2
- Format: Box set, Double CD
- Label: Universal Classics
- ASIN: B00000470G
- Other Editions: Audio CD | MP3 Download
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 279,557 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
All Or Nothing At All: The Billie Holiday Story Vol.7 Box set, Double CD
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By the time these recordings were made in 1956 and 57, Billie Holiday's life and career were ebbing to premature close. It's a story which has been told, twisted and embellished ad nauseum. Die-hard fans are bemused that her later work, with her voice reflecting the accumulated scars of addiction and misuse, should be so highly regarded. They prefer to listen to the prodigious output of her early recording career which started as early as 1935, and which reveals her talent as a vocal musician in all its youthful glory. But as biographer Donald Clarke's accompanying notes suggest, the decline of her voice actually heightened her ability as an interpreter of lyrics and it's this quality which makes these sessions so compulsive to listen to. In fact, they originally comprised two classic albums, Songs for Distingue Lovers and Body and Soul, made for Norman Granz's pioneering Verve label. True, the material is heavily biased towards the torch song, but there are a number of light pop standards ("Moonlight In Vermont" and "April In Paris") which make it absolutely clear that Holiday was never, even at this late stage, a one-dimensional tragedienne. --Piers Ford
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The songs, which represent the cream of the 20th century American songbook, were recorded over seven sessions; two in 1956 and five in January 1957. So, unlike some of her music that's available from the 1930's, these were recorded in stereo and the annoying hisses and pops are gone. Yes, this was late in her career but she is still strong!
She's working with some other legendary musicians here, too. Ben Webster on the saxophone is also a master at telling a story through music. Harry "Sweets" Edison on the trumpet and Jimmy Rowles on piano are outstanding.
Although I had always heard she was phenomenal, I never quite "got it" until I heard "All or Nothing At All." Now I understand why Sinatra spent hours listening to her in clubs to learn how to phrase a song.
Here, the songs are all examples of why Lady Day's name is so closely associated with singing the blues. And in typical Verve fashion, the quality of the recordings is OUTSTANDING.
Billie Holiday's voice isn't the most powerful, the most refined, or the most acclaimed, but is it ever inspiring. Her ability to convey sorrow in a ballad is unparalleled. But one of the best things about this CD are the medium tempo'd, swinging songs like "Cheek to Cheek", "All Or Nothing At All", "Just One Of Those Things" and several others. You don't simply get lulled into sadness (for too long).
Highly recommended for the Billie enthusiast or casual Jazz fan. This compilation trumps others around it.
This double CD (made of three LP albums - "All or nothing at all", "Body and Soul" and "Songs for distingue lovers") is a good example of this stage in her career, but also probably the best recordings made in the period. It is full of genuinly emotional, but sometimes also ironic interpretations of great songs from Gershwin and company (Berlin, Porter, Duke...), with only one great instrumental number, recorded while the musicians waited Billie to show up ("Just Friends"; recording not issued on the original albums)...
Edison wisely sticks to the muted trumpet on many songs (too much open horn would outshine the gentle and fragile star of the sessions), but when he removes his mute it is a pleasure indeed, while Ben Webster is also reasonably restrained when compared with his own sessions. However, these two are really magnificent players (and so are the pianist Rowles, the guitarist Kessel and other musicians), capable of high degrees of emotion and providing a swinging back-up, in tune with the singers register and the general idea of the song.
Naturally, this is far from Billie's "Columbia" gems from the 30's (with Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Webster, Benny Goodman...), or from the best of her 40's output, but since the sound is better from the technological point of view, this is a fine way to start exploring the legacy of, many would argue, the greatest singer in the entire jazz history.
And, I repeat again, I have met and read people who actually prefer her emotinally very potent late voice to the superior sounds she produced when she was at her peak... It's probably more common view among Billie's larger, not-strictly-jazz oriented following.
On a side note, if you're listening to this CD in Windows Media Player, your cheating yourself if you let WMP get away with its one-size-fits-all equalizer settings. Be sure to set it to "jazz" if not a custom setting.