Billie Holiday

Songs & Conversations

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More than any other Billie Holiday recording in existence, Songs & Conversations holds the key to an understanding of this tragically misinterpreted individual, allowing glimpses of her very soul while offering insights and moments of raw honesty that some will find unsettling. Tape recorded in the living room of bassist Artie Bernstein with pianist Jimmy Rowles (who gruffly complains that she sings in G-Flat), these are the sounds of Lady Day in rehearsal. She chats, smokes, drinks, laughs, and cusses like a sailor while openly discussing her own private/public history, the tough lessons of the entertainment industry, and the songs that were her life's blood. Lady pointedly chose tunes that grimly referenced her personal reality, such as "Everything Happens to Me" and "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good." She clearly states that "I Don't Want to Cry Anymore" should not be sung prettily. Not wanting to cry, she explains, might inspire her to pass by her ex's house and "throw a stink bomb at that son of a bitch!" This is not the cheerful Billie Holiday of the mid-'30s. This is the same woman eight or nine lives later. To prepare yourself, listen to the Verve sessions of 1957, savor the deep intensity of Billie's prematurely aged voice, then forget everything you think you know about how music is supposed to sound and become a fly on the wall of Artie Bernstein's living room. Surrender completely to Lady's lovely rendering of "Just Friends," prefaced with her tale of a botched audition and the heartbreaking evidence of this gifted singer muttering to herself: "I do not got a legitimate voice." When she first came onto the scene, Holiday sounded like nobody else, and like her friend Lester Young, she took a lot of flack and abuse for it over the years. That is, until like Pres she found herself surrounded by people who had begun to imitate her every nuance. Above all, she struggled under the onus of vice squad notoriety and sensationalistic gossip. Maybe that's why she sings "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" twice. These rehearsal tapes were issued on a Paramount LP during the '70s, and were partially included in ESP's Rare Live Recordings 1934-1959 set, released in 2007. This album reveals crucial aspects of the real Lady Day. While it could be said that it's not for everybody, maybe everybody needs to hear it at least once, or better than that, more than once, and more people ought to be listening to it over and over again, savoring every bittersweet utterance and communing with the spirit of Lady Day.

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