In many ways, a sad event. 1988 reissue of an album with Ray Ellis and his orchestra. It's poignant in a tragic way.
- Ron Wynn (All Music Guide)
========= from the cover ==========
The dictionaries tell us that an artist is "one who professes and practices an art in which conception and execution are governed by imagination and taste." By these or any other rational standards Billie Holiday has never been anything less than a consummate artist. As the British composer and critic Steve Race once wrote: "She can do wonders with dramatic timing ... whether mocking the over-simplicity of Tin Pan Alley love, or the desperate passion of the streets, her voice is one of the few sounds on which the whole structure of jazz intonation is founded."
What is remarkable about this evaluation is that it remains firmly true whether the writer had in mind the Billie Holiday of the 1930s, when she first impinged on our consciousness, or the Lady Day of 1959. In many ways these are two different people, for there have been substantial changes in the vocal quality, the vibrato and other technical aspects; yet in either case the sounds of this voice are unique. In 1935 there was nobody else who resembled the 1935 Billie Holiday; today there is nobody on the scene capable of duplicating her 1959 self.
Some of the critics have used the transition as a sort of polemical football, discussing the pros and cons of the deeper sound and poignant timbre, debating which of the two Billies can achieve the more compelling mood. But all these arguments are swept aside by the only evidence that has true meaning: the subjective experience of hearing Billie, at any age or stage, telling her bittersweet stories in a fashion that will move listeners for generations to come. As Max Jones observed recently in the London Melody Maker, while Billie was in town for a British TV date, "Opinions differ about Billie's extraordinarily expressive singing - now more than ever. But for my part I have to state she is still the most gripping storyteller in the game."
Billie's recording career can be said to have started recently on its fourth phase. The first saw her featured mainly as a vocalist with various orchestras - on a couple of long-ago sides with Benny Goodman, made when she was 18; on a long series with Teddy Wilson in the late 1930s, and on one number cut while she was touring as Artie Shaw's girl singer. In the second phase, which began auspiciously with Lover Man, Billie was often heard with specially organized string accompaniments.
The third phase consisted mainly of revivals, with Billie recreating some of the most successful songs from the initial period. The fourth began through her felicitous alliance with Ray Ellis.
The Holiday-Ellis association was a direct result of Billie's reaction to his musicianship. When she heard an arrangement he had recorded of For All We Know she was immediately determined to form a musical partnership with him. Ellis, a young Philadelphian who began composing and arranging while in the Army, had considerable experience as a saxophonist and clarinetist, around his home town as well as with Paul Whiteman and other major orchestras. Four years ago he gave up playing for full-time activity as a musical director.
Ray has consistently arranged to provide Billie with new material - new to her, that is. On the three sessions of which the present album is composed, all the songs were popular items that she had never before recorded.
The small band is heard on All of You, with Al Cohn in a solo role. Sweets Edison, who was a member of the Basie band when Lady was the Count's girl singer two decades ago, again lends the wit and warmth of his personality to the track as Billie bites searingly into the voracious lyrics.
Sometimes I'm Happy (1927) was recorded at the third session, in which Sweets was heard from as well as Gene Quill and Jimmy Cleveland.
You Took Advantage of Me, a song whose lyrics may have a special meaning for Billie, is another survival of the late 1920s, heard here with the strong ensemble and Quill.
Barry Galbraith supports Billie through the little-heard verse of Sleepy Time Down South, best known as the theme song for the past 30 years of one of Lady's first vocal models, Louis Armstrong.
Sweets propels the small band into the 1923 jazz classic There'll Be Some Changes Made, which offers an Al Cohn solo in the second chorus, followed by some updated lyrics in which Frank Sinatra figures appropriately. Instead of plunging into the conventional corny tag often associated with this song, Ray Ellis wisely arranged for a placid fade on ad lib statements by Cohn and Edison.
'Deed I Do is another beautifully cohesive small-band performance, featuring a solo by Sweets and some of the most typical melodic variations, as well as some of the most swinging statements, of all Billie's performances in this set.
Don't Worry 'Bout Me is a 1939 tune from one of the later Cotton Club shows. This was recorded at a session that featured a twelve-piece string section and the alto saxophone of Gene Quill, a 31-year-old alto saxophonist greatly respected among jazzmen but still insufficiently known to the general public.
All the Way is one of the most recent songs in the set. Sung by Frank Sinatra in The Joker is Wild, it is exquisitely suited to Billie's poignant, never-cloying ballad style and to the string-rich setting.
Just One More Chance, a melody that has survived three decades superbly unscathed, may evoke memories of Russ Columbo among senior citizens. In this treatment the obbligatos and instrumental solo are by trombonist Jimmy Cleveland.
It's Not For Me To Say, though very recent, shows signs of developing into a standard. It was on the Hit Parade in 1957.
I'll Never Smile Again owes its durable fame to Frank Sinatra, the Pied Pipers and the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, who launched it jointly in 1940.
The string section gives way to a smaller ensemble on Baby Won't You Please Come Home, The men on the date were Harry "Sweets" Edison and Joe Wilder, trumpets (Sweets is heard in characteristically laconic statements on solos and backgrounds); Billy Byers, trombone; Al Cohn, tenor sax; Danny Bank, baritone sax; Hank Jones, piano; Barry Galbraith, guitar; Milt Hinton, bass and Osie Johnson, drums. Billie sings the last chorus in "long meter," a process initiated with this song when it was introduced by McKin-ney's Cotton Pickers back in the 1920s.
Watching Lady Day at work while these records were being made was a gratifying experience. Many singers come to record dates in sweatshirts and slippers, running for cover every time a photographer appears. Not Lady. She walked into the studio statuesque and sharp as ever, as attractively made up and gowned as if she were headed for a Carnegie Hall concert. It was a fine psychological note, helpful to the morale of everyone present. As Billie knows so well, a record session is something to be presented for posterity, and while the performances may sound as casual as you please, the approach to them must always involve an awareness of the real importance of the occasion.
At one point on this album Billie's lyrics run If you let me love you it's for sure I'm gonna love you all the way The words could have been written with her in mind, for Billie's life has been a perpetual rejection of halfway measures in everything she has done, right and wrong. There are no halfway measures in her handling of the songs here - an enduring, all-the-way approach in which, more accurately than any dictionary in the world, she offers her own definition of the word "artist."
- Leonard Feather (Author of The Encyclopedia of Jazz)