Don't click or your IP will be banned


Hittin' The Web with the Allman Brothers Band Forum
You are not logged in

< Last Thread   Next Thread >Ascending sortDescending sorting  
Author: Subject: Billie Holiday Fifty Years Later: A Tribute and Reassessment

Zen Peach





Posts: 24400
(24575 all sites)
Registered: 3/31/2006
Status: Offline

  posted on 7/31/2009 at 11:10 AM
By Victor L. Schermer

Fifty years ago, on July 17, 1959, Billie Holiday died an untimely death at age 44 in a New York hospital from complications of drug and alcohol dependency. Now, half a century after her passing, it is an appropriate hommage to reflect once again on her legacy as a singer, an African American woman, a victim-- of a traumatic childhood, spousal abuse, and substance dependence--and a powerful creative force for the times she lived in. Though less of a “pop star” (and much more of a true artist) than the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, Billie Holiday is equally an icon of American music, and her legacy is timeless.

Holiday almost disingenuously re-shaped American popular and jazz singing, and in so doing she contributed to the transition from swing to modern jazz, from big bands to the small group formats that have dominated the jazz scene ever since. I say “disingenuous” because she came up and learned music by listening to records and then doing some rather thankless club and road work. She acquired her style from recordings of Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and others. She was not part of any movement or trend. In spite of this, she beautifully bridged the gap between the “blues” style of African-American singers and players and the white-dominated “swing” that came into vogue around the time she began her career. If you listen to her 1930's recordings with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and other swing musicians, you can hear her break through the formulaic rhythms and riffs of the era, going her own way with a song, yet somehow blending seamlessly with her backup musicians. It was perhaps this synergy of musical styles, in addition to her soulful beauty, that so impressed saxophonist Lester Young that he famously called her “Lady Day,” and which enabled him to interweave his solos flawlessly with her singing on their priceless recordings together.

“Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular music...”
– Frank Sinatra

As she evolved and developed, Holiday gave rich and soulful interpretations to a wide scope of music, from the romantic to the lively and flirtatious, from the joyful to almost unbearably sad, from powerfully stated realities (”God Bless the Child”; “Strange Fruit”) to everyday standards (”I Wished on the Moon”; “A Foggy Day”; “No Greater Love”). At her peak, she was beautiful in appearance, a true diva wearing a gardenia in her hair, and captivating an audience with her expressive voice. In 1939, the young Frank Sinatra went to hear her perform at the Uptown House (the same year she opened at Cafe Society in Greenwich Village). Sinatra was entranced: “Standing under a spotlight in a 52nd Street jazz spot, I was dazzled by her soft, breathtaking beauty.” Later, a year before she died, in an interview with Melody Maker, Sinatra opined, “Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular music in the last 20 years. With a few exceptions, every major pop singer in the United States during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius.” Coming from “The Chairman of the Board,” this is quite a testimony to the extraordinary impact of an African-American woman who pulled herself up by the bootstraps from a deeply disrupted family life in a segregated society. If much later, a black disc jockey-jazz producer by the name of Sid McCoy was able to dub Sinatra as crooner the “Master Story-Teller,” it was, above all, Billie Holiday who made such a designation possible.

The 1972 film with Diana Ross in the Billie Holiday role, Lady Sings the Blues, documented, albeit in the sensationalized, glamorized fashion of Hollywood biopics, the tragedy of her deterioration from the effects of alcohol and heroin addiction as well as her troubled relations with the men in her life. A late classic photograph of her sitting wanly in front of a studio microphone with a glass of liquor in her hand contrasts sharply with one taken less than 10 years earlier at the Cafe Society, glowing like a rising star. Nevertheless, and despite the weakening of her voice, her last recordings (for example,Lady in Satin and Songs for Distingue Lovers) for many of today's listeners possess even greater depth of feeling than her earlier ones and, along with her work on Columbia and Commodore in the '30s and 40s, have become classics of recorded music. Various “spins” have been put on her rapid decline, whether as a fallen angel, a woman defeated by circumstances, or a manifestation of the sorrow which she poured into poignant ballads like “Good Morning Heartache” and “Some Other Spring.” The hard truth is that she was a victim of the same drug and alcohol dependence that took down Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Art Pepper, and a list that could seemingly go on forever. Being a once vibrant and beautiful woman in the public spotlight, she was more stigmatized by her addiction than were the men. And her arrest for possession, even as she was dying on a hospital bed, further emphasized the sensational at the expense of her art. Unfortunately, it still negatively slants our perception of her in a way that clouds our understanding of her music.

Holiday's depth of emotion and her abhorrence of racism were nowhere more manifest than in her rendition of “Strange Fruit,” the song by Albert Meeropol that stunningly documented the horrific lynchings of African- Americans by the Ku Klux Klan and other racists in the South in the first decades of the twentieth century. The song, and certainly Holiday's recording of it, played a significant role in the Civil Rights movement by bringing such atrocities into public awareness. Her audiences, and sometimes Holiday herself, were moved to tears when she sang it. That song, and her own “God Bless the Child,” showed how conscious she was of social issues and the problems of a segregated society that directly impacted many jazz musicians through segregated clubs and facilities, personal humiliations, and refusals of performing rights in New York nightclubs. Indeed, everything she sang--even the most familiar numbers from the American Songbook of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter--seemed to come right out of her own personal experience. As Charlie Parker once said, “If you haven't been through it, it won't come out of your horn.”

What was it about Billie Holiday's singing that made her one for the ages? Classical composer Ned Rorem, who says that his song cycles were influenced by her, pointed out the aesthetic simplicity of her style- she never wasted a note, and there was nothing redundant in her singing. Her sense of timing, her awareness of where she was in a tune, and her ability to lay back on the beat without losing the swing, and perhaps most importantly, the range and depth of emotions that she expressed were all innovative for her era, and remain unequaled to this day. Jazz vocalists since Holiday have all learned from her, and have gone well beyond her in vocal ability, complexity, and sophistication. But if you listen to almost any of her recordings--despite the technical limitations and Holiday's later personal vulnerability--they remain fresh as a garden after a rain shower, beautiful, glistening, as unforced and natural as fruit on the vine, or a blossoming gardenia. It's doubtful few have equaled her accomplishment. It's certain that no one has been able to exceed the interpretive power of her singing.

http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=33481

 

____________________


 
Replies:

Zen Peach



Karma:
Posts: 18593
(18594 all sites)
Registered: 11/20/2006
Status: Offline

  posted on 7/31/2009 at 11:27 AM
Thanks for sharing this, lono. Love Lady Day.

 

____________________
"Come on down to the Mermaid Cafe and I will buy you a bottle of wine, and we'll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down..."

 

Universal Peach



Karma:
Posts: 5944
(6041 all sites)
Registered: 1/24/2002
Status: Offline

  posted on 7/31/2009 at 11:43 AM
My .02
Every vocalist--especially female--needs to listen to Billie Holliday. Just as Duane and Dickey, and now Derek and Warren, instinctively knew how to see a song in terms of the bigger picture, take it where it shoud go, without necessarily following along as it was written, but still staying true to the original, Billie did the same thing with her voice.
Thus she fit right in with the spontaneous artists mentioned--Shaw, Goodman, Wilson, Young. Improvising, while still telling a story.

She was a master at breathing technique. And at straying from the beat, while she and those playing with her knew where they all were. So much like Duane and Derek and the others. A pioneer in using her voice as an instrument.

I can't put it in words, but I believe all these musicians "thought" alike musically. This is what caused my instant connection to Duane. What made me cry the first time I heard Derek. I thought it was gone forever.

 
E-Mail User

Zen Peach



Karma:
Posts: 18640
(18700 all sites)
Registered: 2/9/2006
Status: Offline

  posted on 7/31/2009 at 11:49 AM
"The very thought of You"...

Does it for me.

R.I.P. Billie Holiday

 

____________________


 

Universal Peach



Karma:
Posts: 5944
(6041 all sites)
Registered: 1/24/2002
Status: Offline

  posted on 7/31/2009 at 03:04 PM
Me, Myself, and I....Without Your Love. Lester playing underneath, two masters at work.
I'll Never Be the Same, with Teddy's beautiful piano intro....These were musicians.

 
E-Mail User

Extreme Peach



Karma:
Posts: 1751
(1751 all sites)
Registered: 10/14/2003
Status: Offline

  posted on 7/31/2009 at 03:52 PM
Five minutes of Billie Holiday moves me more than the entire careers of the crop of singers that began with Whitney Houston through Mariah and so on...with all their four-octave ranges and vocal gymnastics, they cannot SING A SONG and deliver a lyric like Billie could. My favorite living singer who IMO embodies that quality is Bettye LaVette.

 

____________________
we are not here to create or cling to beliefs. we are here to pay attention.

 

Extreme Peach



Karma:
Posts: 1012
(1012 all sites)
Registered: 3/19/2003
Status: Offline

  posted on 7/31/2009 at 07:18 PM
Wonderful article about Billie. Not gifted in either vocal range or sonic power her singing so effectively conveyed life's sorrows and the ocassional shining moment of happiness. A very special artist.

 

____________________
Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world.
 
E-Mail User

True Peach



Karma:
Posts: 13825
(13988 all sites)
Registered: 11/9/2003
Status: Offline

  posted on 7/31/2009 at 07:57 PM
I knew of her but had never really delved into her music til recently. Several weeks ago, The Ovation Channel showed an entire week of music documentaries, one of them titled Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday. Now I can't get enough. That wonderful voice!! I listen to her a lot now.

 

____________________

"You play blues with all of you, not just your hands. Every bit of you is part of that music."

 

Zen Peach



Karma:
Posts: 40437
(41901 all sites)
Registered: 7/19/2007
Status: Offline

  posted on 7/31/2009 at 08:51 PM
Thanks for sharing this, Lono. Billie is a very special lady.

 

____________________
Front feet doin' the shuffle, back feet too, love them good ol' Georgia blues


 

Peach Extraordinaire



Karma:
Posts: 4943
(4942 all sites)
Registered: 3/28/2008
Status: Offline

  posted on 7/31/2009 at 09:08 PM
thanks for posting
nobody could sing with the emotion like she could

 
 


Powered by XForum 1.81.1 by Trollix Software


Privacy | Terms of Service
The ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND name, The ALLMAN BROTHERS name, likenesses, logos, mushroom design and peach truck are all registered trademarks of THE ABB MERCHANDISING CO., INC. whose rights are specifically reserved. Any artwork, visual, or audio representations used on this web site CONTAINING ANY REGISTERED TRADEMARKS are under license from The ABB MERCHANDISING CO., INC. A REVOCABLE, GRATIS LICENSE IS GRANTED TO ALL REGISTERED PEACH CORP MEMBERS FOR The DOWNLOADING OF ONE COPY FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY. ANY DISTRIBUTION OR REPRODUCTION OF THE TRADEMARKS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE PROHIBITED AND ARE SPECIFICALLY RESERVED BY THE ABB MERCHANDISING CO.,INC.
site by Hittin' the Web Group with www.experiencewasabi3d.com