Billie Holiday

1949-1951

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Lady Day's Decca recordings of 1949 and 1950 find her working in front of loud, rather pushy big bands under the direction of Buster Harding and Sy Oliver, and ultimately performing in weird collusion with white-bread pop entity Gordon Jenkins. Porter Grainger's "'Tain't Nobody's Bizness if I Do" has been closely associated with Fats Waller since he recorded it in 1940. Lady Day sings it sweet and spicy, with showy brass accenting her every phrase. Everyone who has ever sung this number puts a personal spin on the lyrics. Tellingly, Billie Holiday insists that even if she finds herself being battered by her male companion, she will never seek help from the police and that's a personal matter of her own. This has a grim aftertaste if you reflect upon her story up close, but Billie was not alone in taking this sort of a stand -- Victoria Spivey's "Let Him Beat Me" comes to mind, and there's nothing for the listener to do but reflect upon human nature, which is what music -- especially blues and jazz -- is all about. The folks at Decca seem to have had in mind an entire Holiday album of songs associated with Bessie Smith, but unfortunately only three such numbers made it to completion. Just think how nice it would be to have on hand Billie's renditions of "Me and My Gin," "You've Got to Give Me Some," "Backwater Blues," "Wasted Life Blues," "Put It Right Here," and "Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair"! Thank goodness she completed the three Bessie Smith covers heard here. Lady Day's handling of "Keeps On A-Rainin'" is exquisite. "Do Your Duty" seems almost like a burlesque because of the brassy arrangement, and this singer substitutes "buck" for Smith's copulative term used on the original recording. Billie sounds delighted to be singing "Gimme a Pigfoot" even if the prevailing social atmosphere did not permit her to echo Bessie's inclusion of the word "reefer," however accurate that might have been coming from the marijuana-reliant Holiday. The players in the bands backing her in August and September of 1949 form a strong contingent from the swing scene of the previous decade, with a couple of Young Lions -- George Duvivier and Shadow Wilson -- thrown in for good measure. On September 30th of that year Billie Holiday recorded two duets with her idol, Louis Armstrong, their two voices mingling more on "My Sweet Hunk o' Trash" than on the flip side. In a way these performances resemble Armstrong's humorous collaborations with Jack Teagarden. Four selections from October 1949 find our Lady backed with a small band augmented with strings under the direction of Gordon Jenkins. While some may regard these sides as too schmaltzy, anyone truly in love with this singer's voice will be able to relax and enjoy the ride. The Gordon Jenkins Singers, on the other hand, are so square-sounding that most jazz fans will struggle with the incongruity of it all. Billie herself manages to sound wonderful even under these circumstances. Finally, four titles recorded in April of 1951 for the Aladdin label provide a much-needed antidote after all that fluff. Here the singer is backed by the Tiny Grimes Sextette, the only identified members being gutsy saxophonist Haywood Henry, pianist Bobby Tucker, and Grimes himself. Two tasty blues are followed by a magnificent version of Fats Waller's "Blue Turning Grey Over You" and the wistful "Detour Ahead."

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 3:22 SpotifyAmazon
2 3:16 SpotifyAmazon
3 3:17 SpotifyAmazon
4 2:51 SpotifyAmazon
5 3:17 SpotifyAmazon
6 2:46 SpotifyAmazon
7 3:16 SpotifyAmazon
8 3:21 SpotifyAmazon
9 3:18 SpotifyAmazon
10 3:26 SpotifyAmazon
11 3:06 SpotifyAmazon
12 3:15 SpotifyAmazon
13 2:58 SpotifyAmazon
14 3:11 SpotifyAmazon
15 2:53 SpotifyAmazon
16 2:43 SpotifyAmazon
17 3:11 SpotifyAmazon
18 2:06 SpotifyAmazon
19 3:06 SpotifyAmazon
blue highlight denotes track pick