Billie Holiday: Tain't Nobody's Business

On May 27, 1947, Billie Holiday was sentenced to a year and a day for possession of narcotic drugs, remaining in custody until March 16, 1948. The publicity associated with her bust and subsequent prison sentence brought her notoriety, and her appearances began attracting the curious and thrill seekers. It was something she bridled at, so “Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” must be viewed in this context – more personal statement than enduring performance. Fans familiar with her well-publicized troubles considered it her anthem, and she frequently sang it in her stage shows. Its interest lies in how it reinforced her perceived “authenticity” while defiantly justifying her self-indulgence. Before, she'd sung from the standpoint of a woman unlucky in love; now, as an older woman, her experiences provided a new perspective from which to sing: as a woman unlucky in life. Audiences began to read her personal history into each performance as she consciously erected the legend into which she would finally step, closing the doors firmly behind her.

January 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Jimmy Witherspoon: 'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do<br>(aka 'Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do)

Famously recorded by Bessie Smith in 1923, “'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do” became a signature tune for Jimmy Witherspoon (born in 1923), who recorded it dozens of times during his more than 5-decade career. Witherspoon originally hit with the song in 1947 singing for Jay McShann’s band. That version remains Witherspoon’s best-known take on the composition.

When Witherspoon was making straight-ahead Kansas City blues in sessions between 1945-1953, "Tain't Nobody's Business” was one of a string of early hits he had when he broke out as a blues shouter in the mold of Joe Turner. But by the end of the 50s, ‘Spoon’s professional music career had petered out as tastes changed.

Witherspoon was tracked down by the concert promoters of Monterey Jazz Festival, and on October 2, 1959, with his mother watching him perform for the first time, Witherspoon reinvented himself as a singer of heretofore unexplored nuance, capable of sophisticated phrasings far beyond his earlier recordings. Whether improvising words or sliding into verses, Witherspoon proved supremely able to adapt his voice to almost any musical accompaniment. A better all-star group to make this point could not have been imagined, and Webster in particular has chemistry with Witherspoon as their phrasings ring together.

This deceptively laid-back performance from that night in Monterey is a blueprint for how Witherspoon was reinterpreting his youthful shout blues with total confidence into his new adult sound. For the next decade, on more than a dozen albums on Verve and Prestige, Witherspoon would continue to deftly mix blues and standards, while working with every sort of backing imaginable, and demonstrating an ease few others would ever show.

January 07, 2008 · 0 comments


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