Billie Holiday: Sings

The singer's comeback under Norman Granz showed a deterioration in tone but none in the unique ability to manipulate melody and lyric

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When Billie signed a new contract with empresario Norman Granz in 1952, her recording career picked up again, after stagnating at that time (commercially that is, not musically) in a changing music scene. This vinyl reissue, plus four 1951 bonus tracks (her only output that year) contains the first of a string of albums recorded for Granz’s Clef label through 1952-57.

The tunes selected were mainly classic quality, evergreen standards with memorable lyrics, plus some remakes of her earlier hits. She was backed by small groups of top-class jazzmen. The sheer quality of these albums rebooted her career, despite her sometimes uneven performances, due to struggles with deteriorating health. Drug and alcohol abuse had by now noticeably damaged the tonal quality and flexibility of her voice. Yet her timing, her nuanced inflections, and above all, the intense emotion conveyed in her uniquely styled manipulation of melody and lyrics remained as sharp as ever.

On this album Billie sounds relaxed and fully engaged. The backing is a vocalist’s dream team, Oscar Peterson at the helm in a superb rhythm section. I Only Have Eyes For You is at an unexpectedly jaunty tempo, hinting perhaps at her earlier Teddy Wilson days, and urged on by some ebullient high-note trumpet from the brilliant Charlie Shavers, who sparkles feistily again in a smoothly rolling Blue Moon. Solitude is a masterpiece of wistful interpretation with tastefully crafted fills from Flip Phillips, a regular performer in Grantz’s JATP shows and an expressive stylist. On side two, Billie brings out the full romantic appeal, as only she could, of These Foolish Things and You Go To My Head (both without horns). In contrast, Easy To Love is more carefree, with effortless swing all round.

In the four quite rare bonus tracks, recorded for the Aladdin label with the Tiny Grimes group in 1951, the brief Blue Turning Grey, a beautiful Fats Waller tune, is played at an unsuitably brisk tempo. Billie doesn’t sound comfortable and never recorded it again. Detour Ahead, a regular Holiday favourite, is her best track.

She was arguably the greatest jazz vocalist and her unique style and gifts exerted a huge influence across the world of jazz. In this release, admirably suited to the extensive Supper Club series, you hear her in very good latter-day shape, and in stellar company.


Discography
(1) I Only Have Eyes For You; You Turned The Tables On Me; Blue Moon; Solitude; (2) Blue Turning Gray Over You; Be Fair With Me Baby (aka Be Fair To Me) (17.50) – (1)These Foolish Things; Easy To Love; You Go To My Head; East Of The Sun; (2) Rocky Mountain Blues; Detour Ahead (18.30)
(1) Holiday (v); Charlie Shavers(t); Flip Phillips (ts); Oscar Peterson (p); Barney Kessel (g); Ray Brown (b); Alvin Stoller (d). Los Angeles, May 1952. (NB: The Chronological Classics issue of these tracks gave 26 March 1952, which seems more  probably  correct).
(2) Holiday (v); Haywood Henry (ts, bar); Bobby Tucker (p); Tiny Grimes (g); (b) and (d) unknown. NY, 29 April 1951.
Supper Club 044