This is the album that turned me into a Billie Holiday fan. Part of what makes Lady Day accessible on this CD is that you can finally hear her voice as she tells you the stories behind these songs, without the distractions on some of the technically inferior older recordings.
The songs, which represent the cream of the 20th century American songbook, were recorded over seven sessions; two in 1956 and five in January 1957. So, unlike some of her music that's available from the 1930's, these were recorded in stereo and the annoying hisses and pops are gone. Yes, this was late in her career but she is still strong!
She's working with some other legendary musicians here, too. Ben Webster on the saxophone is also a master at telling a story through music. Harry "Sweets" Edison on the trumpet and Jimmy Rowles on piano are outstanding.
Although I had always heard she was phenomenal, I never quite "got it" until I heard "All or Nothing At All." Now I understand why Sinatra spent hours listening to her in clubs to learn how to phrase a song.
After hearing "Ill Wind" and "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me" in an internet video, I went on a search for the artist; that's how I found Billie Holiday. I had to listen to samplings of those same songs by many artists in my search, and I found nobody else who delivers those songs with the same golden tone as Lady Day.
On a side note, if you're listening to this CD in Windows Media Player, your cheating yourself if you let WMP get away with its one-size-fits-all equalizer settings. Be sure to set it to "jazz" if not a custom setting.
OK, let me start by saying Billie Holiday was never a favorite of mine. If I had to pick a favorite 'blues singer' it would have been Dinah Washington....the "Queen" of the Blues! So how did I fall in love with Billie's "All or Nothing At All' album? Maybe it was that portrait on the cover...an artist's interpretation of 'pain' or 'soul' or 'suffering.' And then I heard the songs.....those particular songs, delivered by Billie's rough, jagged, tortured voice. Let's see, I graduated from high school in 1961 (yeah, I'm old) and I know I had the album before then. Just a kid, but felt something very ADULT in 'Ill Wind,' ''We'll Be Together Again,' 'Sophisticated Lady,' and 'Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me.' Maybe those lyrics, her voice, were something I shouldn't even have been experiencing, and certainly not understanding, at that young age. But I did. They've combined this classic album with another that included 'Body and Soul, 'One For My Baby and One More For the Road,' and 'Embraceable You.' For me, this is the perfect Holiday CD. If you want her actual 'classics' such as 'God Bless The Child,' try (seriously) Liza Minnelli's version, because it was a far more fitting, appropriate song for Liza to sing. THIS is the classic Billie Holiday CD for me......BUY IT!
Love the sound on both of the CDs; the 2nd CD, which was released as the album Body and Soul, is really amazing - all of the sidemen including Sweets Edison and Ben Webster, do a great job of making the 2nd CD swing. My favorite tracks are Stars Fell on Alabama, One for my Baby, and Just Friends, although the best track for dancing is But Not For Me.
At the age in life when other great singers were at their peak (for instance Ella, Sarah, Satchmo), Billie was deteriorating rapidly: her voice was losing strength and collour... But, since the strength and the loudness were never essential for her, and the immaculate sense of tempo, rhythm and emotion lingered on, she could still muster a convincing session or two in the fifties. Some even claim that this weaker Billie actually had additional emotional acuteness (I agree only partially - at times she WAS emotionally more convincing at this stage, but too often she was just unable to deliver a chorus convincingly)
This double CD (made of three LP albums - "All or nothing at all", "Body and Soul" and "Songs for distingue lovers") is a good example of this stage in her career, but also probably the best recordings made in the period. It is full of genuinly emotional, but sometimes also ironic interpretations of great songs from Gershwin and company (Berlin, Porter, Duke...), with only one great instrumental number, recorded while the musicians waited Billie to show up ("Just Friends"; recording not issued on the original albums)...
Edison wisely sticks to the muted trumpet on many songs (too much open horn would outshine the gentle and fragile star of the sessions), but when he removes his mute it is a pleasure indeed, while Ben Webster is also reasonably restrained when compared with his own sessions. However, these two are really magnificent players (and so are the pianist Rowles, the guitarist Kessel and other musicians), capable of high degrees of emotion and providing a swinging back-up, in tune with the singers register and the general idea of the song.
Naturally, this is far from Billie's "Columbia" gems from the 30's (with Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Webster, Benny Goodman...), or from the best of her 40's output, but since the sound is better from the technological point of view, this is a fine way to start exploring the legacy of, many would argue, the greatest singer in the entire jazz history.
And, I repeat again, I have met and read people who actually prefer her emotinally very potent late voice to the superior sounds she produced when she was at her peak... It's probably more common view among Billie's larger, not-strictly-jazz oriented following.
The songs on this CD are the ones you really want to hear. So often compilations fall short of depicting a great artist because they leave out so much. They usually only have the #1 hits and most requested songs that are already so easy to find. Not this time. Here, the songs are all examples of why Lady Day's name is so closely associated with singing the blues. And in typical Verve fashion, the quality of the recordings is OUTSTANDING. Billie Holiday's voice isn't the most powerful, the most refined, or the most acclaimed, but is it ever inspiring. Her ability to convey sorrow in a ballad is unparalleled. But one of the best things about this CD are the medium tempo'd, swinging songs like "Cheek to Cheek", "All Or Nothing At All", "Just One Of Those Things" and several others. You don't simply get lulled into sadness (for too long). Highly recommended for the Billie enthusiast or casual Jazz fan. This compilation trumps others around it.