Billie Holiday: For All We Know

Billie told arranger/conductor Ray Ellis she wanted to “sound like Sinatra” after hearing Gordon Jenkins’s scoring for strings on Only the Lonely. More than any other Holiday album, it's necessary to know Billie’s real-life history to interpret Lady in Satin properly. “We started to pick the songs, and I didn’t realize that the titles she was picking at the time were really the story of her life,” Ellis said later. Clearly Billie struggles to maintain aesthetic distance from her personal anguish – indeed, Milt Hinton’s photographs taken during the sessions show her emotionally distressed. As one half of the mind reacts to the boozy huskiness in her voice and her shaky intonation, the other half is shocked by the extent to which the singer’s real-life history has become the source of meaningfulness in her voice. This disjunction produces an uncomfortable listening experience. The singer’s history and art become a unified whole that is infinite and total, a subconscious bonding that allows Lady in Satin – and “For All We Know” in particular – to realize its full meaning. Here the creative moment is distinguished by the immediacy of her limping lyricism; stripped of artifice, it comes as close to an expression of pure feeling as words will allow.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments


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