Billie Holiday: All or Nothing at All

Norman Granz told me that although he once had to wind up a recording session with Billie because she was too drunk to continue, the greatest problem he had with her was getting her to learn new material. He said he wanted to return her to the informal jam session feel of the 1930s Columbia sides, which he considered her best work, but did not want to revisit the same material. By now the reckless vitality of youth had given way to a more melancholy spirit, increasingly trapped within the infinite loops of alcohol and drug addiction. Her voice had frayed, her range was smaller and the tonal quality of her voice deeper, but like all great artists she makes the most of her limitations -- here focusing on the lyric content and using her harmonic ingenuity to avoid notes beyond her range. She succeeds in personalizing and stylizing an unfamiliar song in her own special way. Her accompanists provide generous support, with Edison and Webster offering obbligatos behind her vocal and Rowles and Kessel providing tasteful solos that sustain the song’s drama. During Billie's time with Verve, Granz succeeded in coaxing a series of performances from her that at their best were moving, uniquely personal and fascinating cameos of the less-is-more aesthetic.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments


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