Times Music; Rs 100
Judging from the smooth quality of her voice on the twenty numbers here, this cassette is taken from Billie Holiday's youthful, bright period. That was before the ravages of alcohol and heroin had endowed her with a rough, rasping tone that went well with her tragic persona and indeed added oodles of credibility to the emotions she told of or rather sang about. The assessment that these are early recordings is reinforced by the indifferent sound recording that pervades most of the tracks, falling to positively bad on a couple of numbers.
The mood of most of the pieces is also bright and happy, even if frankly sentimental. Somewhat surprising, given that Holiday had been identified early on with songs that told of heartbreak and sadness. In fact some tracks are quite uptempo and some have chirpy, frothy lyrics. We have here great jazz and pop standards that many jazz musicians interpreted, as well as some that Holiday was particularly identified with. The first category includes Georgia on My Mind, Loveless Love (the title track) and Night and Day, while the second contains many of her personal hits such as Miss Brown to You and What a Little Moonlight Can Do.
Almost all the music on the album illustrates two contrasting facets of vocal jazz: frequently trite pop lyrics juxtaposed with exquisite instrumental improvisation, with the singer subtly changing the mood of her (or his) voice to make the banal words sound witty or mordant. Holiday was a pastmaster (pastmistress?) at this art. Almost uniquely among jazz singers of any generation, she invariably sang with the backing of first-rate jazz improvisers such as Teddy Wilson on piano, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins or Ben Webster on tenor sax, and Roy Eldridge or Doc Cheatham on trumpet. At the time of her career we have showcased here (late '30s to '40s), Wilson and Young (the latter her friend and guide) were regulars with her. The jazz buff can easily detect Wilson's touch on the piano and Young's light, smooth sound on the tenor sax on several of the pieces here.
Every number has either a long instrumental passage before the vocals enter or an instrumental interlude between opening and closing vocals. Saxes, pianos, trumpets and clarinets, occasionally trombones, pitch in with solos during these passages, and, together with the lilting syncopated phrasing of Holiday's voice, firmly establish her credentials as a jazz singer in an age when many of her peers (not excluding Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan) straddled the boundary between jazz and pop.
on 22 December 2001
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