Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Billie Holiday – Broadcast Performances


   Billie Holiday was first great jazz vocalist. Many believe she is the greatest jazz vocalist ever. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 7th, 1915 as Eleanora Fagan, she took her name after  her father, a jazz guitarist who left her and her mother whom he never marriage. Her childhood and youth were extremely difficult, she experienced attempted rape, work in a brothel, heroin addiction – she was living on the edge being poor teenager as well as famous artist. She was complex but free and honest. In her own words, “I never hurt nobody but myself and that's nobody's business but my own”, we can feel the same personality as in 1939 song Strange Fruit.
   She was active in era of swing, bebop and cool, and recognized by every era style setters she was one of modern musicians showing interpretative skills and great sensitiveness over the borderlines. She became first vocalist in history of jazz who was conscious partner to instrumentalists. Her style, the way she was using voice and interpreting music created whole new spectrum of musical phenomena in more than two decades from late thirties to her premature death in 1959. She was swing era singer with some elements of modern jazz, especially cool style looks close considering the way she was restraining her improvisations to interpretative changes of melodic motifs only.

Billie Holiday – Broadcast Performances (1975)

   In series of archive recordings ESP Disk published in 1973 third volume Broadcast Performances 1956-1958. Material of this album was republished two years later in Poland, giving Lady Day first phonographic presentation in Eastern Europe. This Polish edition under the national label of Polskie Nagrania (SX 1269) was titled eponymously Billie Holiday. One small change in program was moving last song from second side When Your Lover has Gone (rec. in Newark, NJ July 25th, 1958) to the end of first side. This changed chronological order of original album. Performed during the same radio broadcast Moaning Low and Don’t Explain are ending the second side of the record.
   Opening second side Fine and Mellow is groundbreaking take recorded in New York City December 8th, 1957 for the telecast The Sound of Jazz. This recording shows solos of three great tenor saxophonists Ben Webster, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, trombonist Vic Dickenson and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. This song gives a chance for some solos showing how alive was jazz in 1956, decade after swing ended with bebop and in time of cool and hard bop new perspectives.

Billie Holiday - Fine and Mellow (1957)

   Publishing this choice of broadcast recordings as first record of Billie Holiday for East Europe was reasonable choice. After 1956 artist was at the peak of her career. The autobiography of Billie Holiday Lady Sings the Blues was in print, she was recognized and had position of a prominent jazz singer. Nevertheless she was famous for popular song recordings. In 1956 and 1957 Billie Holiday was singing with the band of great musicians who generally were: Doc Cheatham and Roy Eldridge (trumpets), Vic Dickenson (trombone), Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young (tenor saxophones), Gerry Mulligan (baritone saxophone), Danny Barker (guitar), Mal Waldron (piano), Milt Hinton (bass) and Osie Johnson (drums). According to discogs.com, basic band was expanded also by trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen, pianist Count Basie and some other musicians.
   As the defect of this edition we may consider the lack of information about places and time of recordings. Only songs published in different takes has information on month and year of recording. And such information can be interesting for the listener. For example session recorded October 27th, 1956 comprises four songs Nice Work If You Can Get It, God Bless the Child, Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone and Don’t Explain. And every song is interpreted in style slightly different than others. It’s highly interesting how singer and arranger of Gershwin’s Nice Work made it tended to cool jazz style. It is worth to remember these broadcast performances were in many cases improvised. Art Farmer who hosted Billie Holiday four times in 1958, announced his Jazz Party as “uninhibited, most inspired and most unrehearsed American jazz”.
   Excluding mentioned above Fine and Mellow, complete second side was recorded during life broadcasting sessions in July 1958. It is possible in these songs Lady Day sung with Buck Clayton and Charlie Shavers (trumpets), Georgie Auld (tenor sax), Tyree Glenn (trombone), Harry Sheppard (vibraphone) and Mary Osborne (guitar). The album of broadcast recordings presents Billie Holiday as active performer, jazz interpreter, and great artist. Though her voice was not as clear as decades earlier, it sometimes sound tired and aged, the more authentic these takes are, and more moving they are. Three and half of star with strong tendency for more.

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