Maybe I listened to the wrong radio programmes, was too involved with pop platters, or more likely Billie's reputation deemed her recordings unsuitable for the UK Fifties airwaves but I came late in appreciating her wonderful jazz vocal talent. Having made up for it since, I welcome this two-disc set which gathers together classic albums - BODY AND SOUL (1957 studio recording), BILLIE HOLIDAY AT NEWPORT (extracts from 1957 recording) BILLIE HOLIDAY AT JAZZ AT THE PHILHARMONIC (1945/46 recordings), MUSIC FOR TORCHING and VELVET MOOD (both featuring 1955 studio recordings).
"Live" recordings during the Forties were a somewhat risky undertaking with sound quality naturally compromised at source by primitive technological failings and no amount of remastering can achieve that much improvement but Avid has a reputation for achieving high standards. Listening to Billie's Philharmonic Jazz renditions of BODY AND SOUL, STRANGE FRUIT and BILLIE'S BLUES is of more historical interest compared to her studio waxings as are the Newport Festival selections which include WILLOW WEEP FOR ME and LADY SINGS THE BLUES but omits NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT - presumably due to timing constraints.
Surprisingly, despite on-going health problems, substance abuse and slurred speech, Billie generally performed her repertoire well and this collection is testament to that fact. The three studio albums superbly showcase MOON LIGHT IN VERMONT, IT HAD TO BE YOU and WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE with one bonus track - FINE AND MELLOW - extracted from THE SOUND OF JAZZ which was presumably a compilation album featuring various jazz performers. Avid's usual practice of including original artwork and liner notes includes details of backing musicians. This collection will prove very useful for those requiring a typical Holiday compilation and although converts might already have the studio albums, I am sure the "live" performances will appeal.
This anthology of some of Billie Holiday's recordings - mainly for Norman Granz - made between 1946 and 1957 has been well remastered and is available at a very attractive price. However it is not arranged in chronological order and, also, some very inferior performances have been included.
The first disc begins with eight tracks taken from the sessions with Ben Webster she taped between January 3rd and 9th 1957. These tacks are among Billie's finest from the Granz years and will leave any collector who doesn't have them want the remainder which include what is arguably the greatest version of 'One For My Baby' ever made.
Then follow five tracks recorded 'live' at the 1957 Newport Festival. These are amongst her worst - she sounds tired and ill - and one wonders why they were ever issued in the first place.
The first disc is completed with the eight tracks originally issued on a 10" LP containing some of Billie's 1945-7 Jazz at the Philharmonic performances. Recorded by Granz whilst she was still under contract to Decca, these show her in fine voice.
The two albums on the second disc - 'Music for Torching' and 'Velvet Mood' - were recorded between 23rd and 25th August 1955. The backing group is superb with some wonderful solos; especially by Benny Carter. Billie is at the top of her latter-day form and her interpretations of these sixteen standards remain unsurpassed.
The final track is a superb performance of 'Fine and Mellow' recorded by Columbia during the rehearsals for the 'Sound of Jazz' TV programme in December 1957. Backed by, amongst others, the tenor saxes of Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, and Lester Young, Billie sounds wonderful. A pity, though, the TV soundtrack wasn't used as this is even finer!
All in all, an excellent anthology but one which could have been even better had the dissapointing Newport tracks been substituted by some of the much better live Holiday recordings from the same period.
The four classic albums of the title are "Body and Soul" from January 1957, "Billie Holiday at Jazz at the Philharmonic" from 1945/6, and "Music for Torching" and "Velvet Mood" from August 1955, and the plus is five of the six tracks from "Billie Holiday at Newport" (July 1957) and "Fine and Mellow" from "The Sound of Jazz". To nitpick for a moment, I'd have preferred the last track to have been omitted in favour of the missing Newport number.
These recordings come from the latter part of her career, when her addictions were beginning to take their toll, but at her best she still sounded head and shoulders above anyone else. Billie reprises some of her earlier hits for the Newport concert, with a trio accompaniment, and her vocal deterioration is in evidence. Norman Granz' ingenuous sleeve note notwithstanding, the JATP album was a composite from her three appearances at the Philharmonic, and displays evidence of an unsatisfactory recording balance.
Fortunately the majority of the tracks are studio recordings, and offer stellar accompaniments, including Harry "Sweets" Edison on trumpet, Benny Carter on alto sax, Jimmy Rowles on piano, and Barney Kessel on guitar. So although this is a bit of a mixed bag it still offers plenty of delights.
I have all the registers of Billie's voice through the three decades she recorded in studio and live all over the States and Europe. This album, that contains a good choice of what made her one of the best inventors of how to sing jazz, blues and standards of american repertoire, is a good companion of my journeys when I'm driving in town's traffic jam or touring my country.
ILOVE THE LATER BILLIE HOLIDAY RECORDINGS THE MOST. HER VOICE BY THIS TIME HAS A ROUGH , LIVED IN TIMBRE TO IT. THE MELANCHOLY ON SOME OF THESE PERFOMANCES REALLY BREAKS THROUGH. WELL WORTH INVESTIGATING IF YOUR AFTER AGREAT COLLECTION OF HER LATE 5OS WORK .
Billie holiday at her best The 1953 bece recording are superb Had them before but did not have Newport and jazz at philharmonic Sorry the packaging was poor and could not listen to the last two tracks of velvet mood