3 LP on 2 CD
## 101-109,203,206,207 - "All Or Nothing At All"
All Music Guide
## 110,115,202,204,209-212 - "Body And Soul"
All Music Guide
## 111,112,113,201,205,208 - "Songs For Distinque Lovers"
All Music Guide
This two-disc set features some of Billie Holiday's top Verve performances from the mid-'50s. Over the course of 28 cuts, she runs the emotional gamut from summery optimism ("Love Is Here to Stay") to pathos-rich musings ("Ill Wind"). Befitting her perennial after-hours mood while at the label, the majority of songs here feature Holiday in a low-down mood of the highest order: her versions of "Moonlight in Vermont" and "A Foggy Day" are classics of the jazz vocal tradition. And the supporting cast isn't bad either, what with the likes of Harry Eddison, Barney Kessel, Ben Webster, and Jimmy Rowles tagging along. A gem.
========= from the cover ==========
Billie Holiday liked to record with strings, but because there is as yet no arranger who knows how to score for a string section behind a jazz vocalist-and only a few string players who'd know how to phrase jazz properly anyway -none of her string dates really worked out. On most of the tunes, she'd sound fine and would cut through the cotton candy, but the superfluous and obtrusive strings made them less than perfect sessions.
Billie was at her best with small combo backing-as in the invaluable Teddy Wilson sides and in those she made . under her own name with Lester Young, Roy Eldridge,' etc. And of her recorded work in the past decade, the best was her Verve dates in relaxed, understanding company such as she received here-Harry Edison, Ben Webster, and a flowing, unaggressive rhythm section.
Billie's singing was essentially story-telling. She didn't indulge in technical voice-stretching, as Sarah Vaughan occasionally did, and she probably couldn't have if she'd wanted to. Billie's was talk-singing in the tradition of speech-inflected music that is at the core of jazz from the blues on. An absorbing article on this subject by Sidney Finkelstein appeared in the September, 1959 issue of The Jazz Review. It begins: "Bela Bartok, in his book on Hungarian folk music, draws a distinction between two kinds of folk music that has fascinating application to jazz. He draws a line between what he calls parlando-tubato music and tempo giusto music. We can roughly translate these terms as 'speech inflected' and 'rhythm dominated.' In the first, parlando-rubato, the melodic accents create a free and highly flexible rhythmic pattern, like the accents of speech. In the second, tempo giusto, the melodic accents form a fixed, regular pattern, like that of a dance. In the first, the melody may be said to expand and contract the rhythm. In the second, the melody is enclosed within the rhythm, and its main accents coincide with the rhythmic beats."
Finkelstein later described speech-inflected music more fully, and in so doing, indicated what Billie did-and the kind of horn accompaniment that best suited her: "In speech-inflected music, like the blues, we can feel the melody line pulling away from the rhythm and at the same time locked to it, but the free accents are the natural and inevitable clothing of the musical thought."
Harry Edison and Ben Webster can be said to play speech inflected music, and it is not just metaphor to talk of their accompaniment in these sessions as a conversation between them and Billie and also as talk among themselves. Both are story-tellers rather than chord-chasers, and both tell somewhat the tame kind of stories as Billie did, although with less pungency and scraping irony. Yet not all of Billie was mordant, as performances like Cheek to Cheek, But Not for Me and Love Is Here to Stay in this album indicate.
Part of Billie's remarkable resiliency - emotional as well as physical - through the years involved a mocking but essentially life-enjoying sense of humor. Until the end, in her music and in her talk with friends, a tenderness also remained. It was often expressed in distinctly untender language, but Billie wasn't as tough as she pretended to be. She was lonely, more easily hurt than she'd admit, and when she trusted someone, she could be- until other things bugged her - the warmest and most considerate of friends. All these qualities continued to be expressed in her music, as they had been from the beginning.
As this set demonstrates in the subtle blending and dissolving of moods within one number as well as in the emotional changes throughout the program as a whole, perhaps the primary reason Billie was always able to reach so deeply into her listeners is that more than any other jazz singer, she could communicate the complexities of feeling in. which we're all involved.
She was never only bitter or only playful or only love-struck or only love-lost. She was a multi-dimensional woman, and she'd experienced more than enough to know how many shades of grey one experiences in an hour or a day.
Listen, for one example, to how she accents certain words in these performances so that they take on added overtones of meaning and give the whole song an immediacy and a heightened intensity that no amount of belting could have done. That too is why it's possible to hear a Billie record many, many times and get new and/ or deeper insights into her meaning-and your own reaction to it-at each hearing Billie sang directly and told a story each time; but she was also complex, and in her music, she therefore was able to tell more meaningful and more perenially evocative stories than any of her contemporaries.
But Not for Me, I Wished on the Moon, Say It Isn't So, and Love Is Here to Stay were recorded in January, 1957. The rest were done in August, 1956. Both sessions were in Hollywood.
-Nat Hentoff (co-editor, The Jazz Review)
Webster was in fact the oldest man on these dates, and by then his was one of the voices of the century. True enough, it was Hawkins who had rescued the saxophone from its role as a prop for vaudeville buffoons, and Hawkins had been Webster's idol, but as early as 1934 Webster had found his own style. "Already we can note his tendency to round off lyrically the contours of phrases and hold his vibrato in check in a way that Hawkins didn't learn until much later," Gunther Schuller wrote. Pierre Boulez described the saxophone's principal merit as "the beautiful variety of its accent; deep and calm, passionate, dreamy, melancholic, like an echo of an echo". Schuller described the tenor sax as the "lyric baritone" of the family: Webster had been famous for his fiery, propulsive swing on Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail" in 1940, but he also recorded "Star Dust" that year with the band (live, in a ballroom in Fargo, North Dakota), and this was the truest Webster, a great balladeer.
It would be a sacrilege to say that Webster filled Young's shoes when it came to playing for Holiday; but such a comparison is unfair to everybody. When Holiday and Young did their most beautiful work together, in the Thirties, they were both much younger; they were delicate souls but they had each other, and they were surviving. By the time of these recordings, things had changed. Webster blows beautiful solos on these tracks, but his playing behind her is different from Young's: He would like to approach her, protect her, but all he can do is love her. In this context, beauty has to be enough.
And what of the singer herself? Her voice had always been utterly distinctive, without any smooth prettiness, and there were always people who didn't like it; but her fans then knew and now know that when she was thought to be in decline, her art was in fact being reduced to its essence.