Billie Holiday: Lady In Satin

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A CD of the same title on American Jazz Classics was recently released and reviewed for JJ by Sally Evans-Darby. That set included the LP made the following year by Billie with the Ellis orchestra and for that reason many will prefer it over this one as it provides the complete 1958/59 Lady In Satin sessions.

On the other hand this release includes some sterling performances by Billie, with voice more or less intact and in her ideal habitat accompanied by the likes of Benny Carter, Lester Young, Harry Edison, Doc Cheatham and Vic Dickinson.

The bonus tracks here end with a really strong six-minute reading of Fine And Mellow in early stereo and Billie on good form with the luxury of solos by Lester, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Doc Cheatham. For these delightful six minutes alone I would most likely prefer this disc, but punters will make their own minds up.

As to the main event here, the Satin disc, I find myself out of step with many commentators. Although Billie’s voice was cracked and strained throughout and you can hear it on every selection, the ravaged voice puts across the pain, sorrow, lost-love feeling, hurt and jazz feel of every note of every song. As Sally says she didn’t lose an ounce of her emotional impact and range. Billie lives the words of every song, painfully but emotionally and she is superbly backed by the sympathetic Ellis orchestra. It is instructive to listen carefully to the way Billie pours everything (and she didn’t have an awful lot left) into interpreting these songs as the orchestra wraps around her with great skill and big orchestra expertise.

Listen out also for those sympathetically melancholy interjections from the likes of J.J. Johnson or Urbie Green on trombone, Janet Putnam’s harp, Phil Bodner’s bass clarinet and Mel Davis’s trumpet. Billie stretched what was left of her voice over these 12 standards with professional determination and plenty of jazz style and the orchestra helped her every step of the way. She loved this record and thought it one of her best. Maybe it was never that but it was a moving, powerful performance by a woman who suffered greatly but never gave up or sold an audience short.

The heavenly choir is a distraction but you can’t have everything. It is nowhere near Billie’s best but it is, I believe, a great (if flawed) jazz record and deserves to be in every serious collection.

Discography
(1) I’m A Fool To Want You; For Heaven’s Sake; You Don’t Know What Love Is; I Get Along Without You Very Well; For All We Know; Violets For Your Furs; You’ve changed; It’s Easy To Remember; But Beautiful; Glad To Be Unhappy; I’ll Be Around; The End Of A Love Affair (2) Prelude To A Kiss; A Ghost Of A chance; Gone With The Wind; Come Rain Or Come Shine; What’s New (3) Fine And Mellow (73.26)
Holiday (v) with:
(1) Ray Ellis Orchestra. NYC, 18 & 20 February 1958.
(2) Combo featuring Harry (Sweets) Edison (t); Benny Carter (as); Jimmy Rowles (p). LA, 23 & 25 August 1955.
(3) Combo including Lester Young, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins (ts); Doc Cheatham (t); Vic Dickinson (tb). NYC, 5 December 1957.
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