Billie Holiday & Lester Young: I Can't Get Started


I Can't Get Started


Billie Holiday and her Orchestra (featuring Lester Young)


Lady Day & Pres 1937-41 (Frémeaux FA013)

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Billie Holiday (vocals), Lester Young (tenor sax), Margaret 'Queenie' Johnson (piano), Buck Clayton (trumpet), Dickie Wells (trombone), Freddie Green (guitar), Walter Page (bass), Jo Jones (drums).

Composed by Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin


Recorded: New York, September 15, 1938


Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

The collaborations between Billie Holiday and Lester Young still speak to us today -- and not just as historical documents. The individual personalities, the emotional presence of these two artists come across in the music -- which thus serves as enduring testimony to their ability to project their hearts and souls into the songs they recorded. Their influence on later popular music and jazz can hardly be over-stated. It is hard to imagine the direct, conversational style of singing mastered by Frank Sinatra, and passed on by him to so many others, if Lady Day had not come first. And the lyricism of the tenor sax, now taken for granted, owes more to Lester Young than to anyone else. Here they take a show tune from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 -- a cute lyric by Ira Gershwin, and a sentimental melody by Vernon Duke -- instill depths of feeling into it that went well beyond any precedent found on Broadway. With all due respect to the great (and underrated) Bunny Berigan, this is the defining performance of "I Can't Get Started."

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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Related Links

Billie Holiday: Rare and Live by Ted Gioia
The Dozens: Twelve Essential Billie Holiday Performances by Stuart Nicholson
”Billie Holiday” by Stuart Nicholson (from The Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians)

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