Billie Holiday: All Or Nothing At All

Vinyl reissue for the singer's mid-50s set, renowned for its sympathetic backing from such as Edison, Webster, Rowles and Kessel


Some of Billie Holiday’s best late singing came with this sterling 1956/57 lineup, the best being the album Songs For Distingué Lovers. The combination of three moderns – Rowles, Kessel and Mitchell – and two fine horn players from an earlier era in Webster and Edison seemed to suit her down to the ground.

This vinyl reissue of All Or Nothing At All features 12 well-known standards plus Moonlight In Vermont from the same recording sessions but not on the original LP. The session finds Billie on top form, putting her personal stamp on the standards with her individualistic way of emphasising the lyrics.

On We’ll be Together Again, surely nobody could be in any doubt that she and her partner will be meeting up again very soon. There is plenty of variety of mood here, from the upbeat Cheek To Cheek to the slow and moody Ill Wind and Speak Low, Billie telling a story carefully with attention to the mood of each song.

She is in suitably sophisticated mood for Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady, a tune that might appear to some people to be quite foreign to her. Edison’s melancholy muted trumpet interjections here and elsewhere help enormously, of course. Holiday’s voice was breaking at this time, but she could still put a song over with a lot of skill and emotion. Webster’s big warm tenor also provided rich counterpoint.

Barney Kessel deserves plaudits for his laid back, lightly swinging accompaniment. This issue omits to name the drummer on the session, but it’s probably Alvin Stoller, who is credited on Distingué. Oddly enough, the first UK issue of Distingué missed out the bass player’s name; it must be something about rhythm players. At any rate, this issue offers good clear sound and presents Billie on great form even though she is lacking some voice but showing she could still do it almost as well as those early 1930s sets with Lester Young and yes, Ben Webster.

Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me; Cheek To Cheek; Ill Wind; Speak Low; I Wished On The Moon; But Not For Me; All Or Nothing At All; We’ll Be Together Again; Sophisticated Lady; April In Paris; Say It Isn’t So; Love Is Here to Stay; Moonlight In Vermont (55.03)
Holiday (v); Harry Edison (t); Ben Webster (ts); Jimmy Rowles (p); Barney Kessel (elg); Joe Mondragon, Red Mitchell (b); probably Alvin Stoller (d). NYC, August 1956 & January 1957.
Jazz Wax 4621