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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 December 2009
Time was when Columbia reissued "The Quintessential Billie Holiday" on CD, in their CBS Jazz Masterpieces series, proudly proclaiming "Digitally remastered directly from the original (sic) analogue tapes". Despite that claim, sound quality left much to be desired, and is perhaps most politely summed up as muffled.

That ended appropriately with "Until the Real Thing Comes Along", and was overtaken in 2001 by the reissue of the 10-CD boxed set "Lady Day, The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia" which retailed for a three-figure sum. Not a bad price, unless you stopped to reflect that the dedicated collector would have expended several times that amount already on previous vinyl and digital reissues. The price was geared to the LP-sized package as well as the contents, but sound quality was far superior.

Having held back then, I am delighted that this magnificent compilation has been repackaged in a CD-sized box and is now available at a price that puts it in reach not just of the ardent collector, but of the casual purchaser also. The set includes a 68-page booklet, which comprises a song index (invaluable if you want to locate just one) an appreciation of Lady Day by Gary Giddins, a shorter essay of her effect on literature by Farah Jasmine Griffin, and a discography. Photographs are scattered throughout the essays, and there's a colour montage of some of the original 78 labels.

Giddins makes a nod in the direction of John Hammond, and the latter deserves credit as the catalyst for these recording sessions. He was not a hard-nosed record producer (most of whom were unsympathetic to jazz) but a genuine fan who could afford to indulge his passion. To digress, I'm glad also that Giddins has highlighted the irony of the sympathetic portrayal of Louis McKay in the biopic "Lady Sings the Blues", but the irony didn't end there. McKay acted as a paid consultant on the movie, which portrayed Billie as having been introduced to drugs by one of the members of an unnamed white band with which she was touring. Had Artie Shaw chosen to sue it would have been no contest!

The Amazon review of this set carries the comment "In the early years the band is named as hers when Wilson is absent", but that is misleading because Wilson was present on some of those dates. The actual difference between the two billings is more marked; where Wilson got label credit Billie's vocal was confined to the middle section, but when her name was used she introduced the song, the group played the middle section, and she sang the ride-out.

My favourite disc is number 6, which includes such sublime masterpieces as Some Other Spring, Ghost of Yesterday, and Body and Soul. Billie is very much in the driving seat, and the various groups provide the most wonderful homogenised accompaniments, against which she weaves the lyric. But whichever you choose to play there is treasure, and this set must rank as the Best Buy of the Year.
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on 21 February 2010
Some years ago I purchased a Japanese set of Lady Day's Columbia recordings - I thought I had at last got a complete edition in the best possible sound. Now along comes this set which proves me wrong on both counts - this really is complete but with some contemporary live tracks as well. As for the sound, I do not believe it will be possible to improve on the studio transfers - they are as near to perfect as you can get. The set is astonishingly cheap for what it is - the greatest canon of vocals in the history of jazz - and I have only two minor complaints regarding the booklet. My Japanese set included the words of all the songs (no doubt to help Japanese buyers) and it would have been nice to have included these - especially as not all the songs are standards. The only other complaint is a tad more serious. There is a tendency to be 'arty' with booklet presentation, often making it difficult to read (especially as on CDs the print is inevitably small). The most common fault (which this booklet is not guilty of) is to lay text over pictures. It is important to have strong colours (black/white is preferable) to contrast text in a clear manner. In the disc details at the end of this booklet they have put a light grey text on white and it is VERY difficult to read. If ever they do a reprinting they should correct this. General message to all record (booklet) producers - 'artiness' does not impress - it irritates.

Having got that off my chest, what can i, a mere mortal, say about these recordings. Oh to have been alive in NYC in the thirties. Although no club could have afforded all the talent gathered together for these sessions, there was always the chance to see some of them some of the time - and one had Toscanini and Horowitz as well!

All we have now are the recordings and I thank the heavens for that. People other than just jazz fans should hear these recordings - listen long enough and you will be won over to the greatest voice that jazz ever produced accompanied by the greatest players in the country at that time. I rest my case.
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on 27 July 2010
This 10 CD set from Columbia includes all Billie Holiday's recordings for the label plus some airshots. They include many of the finest jazz recordings ever made, with most of the greats of the era in support, including Billie's soulmate Lester Young. The sound quality is the best yet, and the only quibble is that the airshots are scattered in chronological order through the alternate studio takes, which follow the master takes. I think it would have been better to put the airshots all together. The package is sold at a bargain price. Snap it up, you won't regret it!
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on 16 February 2009
Although covering the same ground as the Columbia Legacy issue, this is a splendid alternative. The compilation has been put together slightly differently in that relevant alternate takes are grouped together at the end of each CD rather than as a separate 'block'. This is preferable to my mind. The booklet containts full discographical details and lyrics. The remastering s as good as the Columbia and the price is very reasonable.

This group of recordings is, of course, one of the most significant in jazz history. To listen in chronlogical order from Billie's exhuberant first date with Benny Goodman - full of youthful joy - through the wonderful 'swing-sing' sessions with Teddy Wilson and the Basieites and concluding with the emergence of Lady Day as the finest of all jazz vocalists accompanied by the superb 'Cafe Society' bands is one of the greatest pleasures music has to offer.

As a bonus, the set set includes a handful of live recordings. These include a film sountrack with Duke Ellington from 1935, three airshots with Basie in 1937, two with Goodman in 1939, and Billie's contributions to the 1944 Metropolitan Opera House jam session. These are all notable performances and well worth having.

An essential purchase.
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on 15 February 2011
I have always thought that Billie holiday was a beautiful jazz singer and I purchased this set recently to collect the missing 60 extra takes there are in here of songs she issued in the period between 1933 and 1944.
Having had over the years various bits of this period on lp and cd this set gives so much more, the quality of the recording trans-fares are excellent, the clarity is in some cases breathtaking ,when the quality slightly may drop due to rarity of the take,it does not seem to matter after hearing such clarity on most of the issued takes, these songs have been cleaned up and cared for by people who loved and treasured her art.
With her you also have encyclopedia of jazz artists backing her and soloing with great delicacy and beauty, saying just enough to match the beauty of her voice, Duke Ellington and his orchestra, Count Basie and his orchestra, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Benny Carter, Johny Hodges, Ben Webster, Gene Krup, Cosy Cole the list is emence over 65 star and prime movers in Jazz of that day are included in her line-Ups, and on top of that you have lyrics in the songs to cover every mood you may come across in your life.
Tales of love and joy told by a voice who as well as being great story teller, is also a very fine instrument as well. buy and enjoy.
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on 25 February 2011
This is proper music, Billie Holliday actually sang her music and had real amazing musicians and orchestras behind her. Show this to the terrible 'singers' nowadays and they could learn something. Im 16 years old and I wish they made music like this nowadays. Billie Holiday is the best female singer ever (Ella Fitzgerald ?) and this box set is an amazing bargain at £10 fo 10 disks. The box is very deluxe and the huge 68 page booklet is very interesting. I recomend this to anyone who wants to hear proper music for once in 2011.
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on 19 July 2010
"Overall the music included in this set is excellent and of 5 star quality. It has lasted for 75 years and will go on lasting! Some 230 tracks for such a price - what a bargain! Of course a few of the tracks miss the mark but that's inevitable with so many. But in contrast, a significant number of the tracks are sublime masterpieces and are a credit to Billie and the musicians who created them - in about three minutes or less. Teddy Wilson is a very special accompanist and soloist, and on many tracks his playing offers poised relaxation, whatever the company. It's true some of the songs are duds but almost all become very special in these recordings, which feature a veritable who's who of jazz stars from the period. It is noticeable how well their skills and individuality are used to contribute to and enhance the total performance. Originally there was a boxed LP Set of many of these tracks called "The Golden Years" -- and most people do think that these years were golden for Billie Holiday. She is the catalyst and inspiration for their quality.

There are two tremendous bonuses for this re-issue of the set originally issued in 2001. Firstly a number of alternate takes were issued for the first time then and all add to our understanding of Billie Holiday. Secondly the brilliance of digital technology allows us to hear these recordings absolutely afresh. Having personally heard 78s, 10" LPs, 12" LPs and many CD re-issues of these tracks, I know I am hearing these in the best sound ever - much better for example than on the "Quintessential" Series of earlier Billie Holiday CDs. This improvement is noticeable both in Billie's singing and in the front line and piano solos. But for those interested in the rhythm sections, the improvements in clarity are spectacular, particularly in the guitar sounds and in the crispness of the drumming, especially the brushwork.

However I do have two reservations -- though these may be very insignificant to most people. On this set the alternate takes are all grouped on the latter CDs, so if you want to make comparisons you have to switch from 1 CD to another to do so - or re-record the material to another format for your own use and create a set where the songs are alphabetically grouped.

My second reservation is about the packaging and support material. This set comprises 10 CDs in a small compact box with a 66 page booklet. Basically this is fine for this particular set. However once you see and use the original issue from 2001 in a large leather-like slipcase you will see that the original booklet totalling some 120 pages included an article called "The Songs of Billie Holiday" by Michael Brooks. This lasts well over 30 sides and is in effect a track by track guide to the material here, referring not just to the songs but also to aspects of the accompaniments and the musicians playing them. Brooks has sometimes been noted in the past for a somewhat critical writing style but most of his material in the large booklet is very good indeed and mostly very helpful in its analysis. This article is not available in the small box set and in my opinion could have replaced some of the material actually there. But to obtain the original you will need to fork out the vastly more expensive costs of the original slipcase set. The choice is yours.

If these tracks are new to you: a treat awaits! If you know them well, you will be astounded by the much better sound and the chance to hear the alternates. Enjoy!"
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on 7 April 2011
So if you're like me, you've struggled for years with a motley bunch of muzzled Billie releases, wishing that the late great John RT Davies had been let loose on them (he did remaster 22 tracks on a Best Of album). Well this great box is the best quality I've heard, as good as I need, all in one place. It's nice to clearly hear something like Billie's casual, sexy droo-doo-doo da-da-da on Now They Call It Swing, so if you want to enjoy this stuff properly for the first time get this set in your library.
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This 10 disc box set does exactly what it promises - delivers every track recorded by Billie Holiday, AKA Lady Day, for Columbia between 1933 and 1944. We get all the master takes, and a wealth of alternative takes.

The influence of Billie Holiday on the world of jazz and blues cannot be overestimated, and these recordings are an important part of the history of recorded music. Covering her very first session, where she was obviously trying to imitate the great Louis Armstrong, this set lays out all her recordings in chronological order. This allows us to track her progress from a talented newcomer through to her development of her own unique style and finally the full flowering of her talent.

Right back in the beginning of her career, Billie made up for what she lacked in technical skill with a powerful voice, emotional intensity and a unique sense of swing and rhythm. She is backed by a band of exceptional musicians, but she makes them more than just a mere backing band, the interaction between them is remarkable and an indispensible part of her style. In later recordings she developed the technical skill to augment these talents and some truly marvellous tracks, such as St Louis Blues, Georgia on my Mind and Solitude result. These are three that spring readily to mind, there are too many masterpieces here to list them all.

Recommended for all lovers of jazz and blues, especially fans of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Don't be put off by the mammoth nature of the set, it's wall to wall musical genius, and you won't be disappointed.

Also available are collections of the complete Decca, Commodore and Verve recordings, which, I think, will allow you town all of the recorded output of this colossus of Jazz.
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on 5 July 2010
I picked this set up in FOPP in Nottingham for a tenner even though I had most of the old CBS early cd's. But this set is much better, with it's alternative cuts, an entertaining and informative booklet and- I think - better sound. Get it while you can!
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