The Billie Holiday Story Volume 1 (CBS 68228) and Lady In Satin (Columbia 8048) (1958)

A pair of albums to metaphorically bookend the archetypal tragic jazz artist’s career and literally demonstrate my own Trans-Atlantic thrifting.

Recordings from the 1973 Billie Holiday Story double Lp compilation cover Lady Day’s first flush of success from 1933 to 1939 with bandleaders Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson and Count Basie. Often arranged so that the band vamps for a minute or so till that novel voice comes in, these songs radiate a sunny warmth and playfulness belying Billie’s troubled life offstage. In all of popular music, it doesn’t get much better. Especially thrifty Thrifty Vinyl readers will be glad to know that I only paid a pound, not three, for this at the Ashford Bootfair.

Whether Holiday was typecasting herself with the string and pathos laden Lady In Satin is an interesting, if ultimately unanswerable question, though the inclusion of songs like “I’m A Fool To Want You” and “Glad To Be Unhappy” are suggestive. Certainly, Billie herself requested Ray Ellis arrange these slow, bittersweet songs in a bid for a kind of respectability destined to elude her in life (and which she seemed otherwise to actively repulse). Lady In Satin was much criticised at the time and now for its “syrupy” production, but there are enough “jazz” touches, the trombone solos on “Fool” and “Glad” for instance, and there is enough dramatic contrast between the lushness and Holiday’s slurred and warbling voice, ever more full of those characteristic cracked one syllable swoops and unable to hold a note very long, to add a level of depth which, at this point in history, enhances the listening experience without descending into a morbid “car crash” experience on one hand or mere easy listening on the other.  The last studio album released while she was still alive, I got this two Xmases ago for $2 in a Charlottesville, Virginia thrift store.

I can't tell if Lady Day's lipstick was smeared by the art director of Billie herself

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Published in: on November 14, 2011 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  

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