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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A pretty important little bit of documentary film............

It took me quite a few years to appreciate Billie Holiday. I have to say that I didn't like her voice as a kid.  I thought she sang like a meowing cat in heat with a mouth full of mashed potatoes, quite frankly.  Perhaps it was that damned "Lady sings the blues" movie, with the insipid Diana Ross....blechhhh.   Perhaps it was every other angst-ridden college girl that I knew....feeling Billie's pain....downing in dramatic depression...alternating between blasting Billie recordings with well worn copies of Joni Mitchell's "Blue", and Nina Simone....whatever. Well, many years, and revisits to her work changed my mind. I respect her body of work with a different set of ears, today.  

And so, watching this earlier, even though it is at the very end of her life and career....I realize how much I love this clip.  God, she is worn out, here.  But, damned if she doesn't sound so poignant, so gives chills hearing it.  You can see the closeness of her and these old, close friends  together.  It's about as perfect a performance as I can imagine possible. Consider the personnel in this clip: Billie Holiday (v), with Mal Waldron All Stars: Roy Eldridge, Doc Cheatham (tp); Vic Dickinson (tb); Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young (ts); Gerry Mulligan (bs); Mal Waldron (p); Milt Hinton (b); Osie Johnson (d) and of itself, that's an amazing group.  It's like an college reunion of of the guys she played with throughout her career....some of the best players in the genre.  There is a lot of a relaxed and happy vibe in shows, especially in her body language......she isn't a singer to me in this vid....she's another one of the instruments, in the hands of one of the best players......a nice clip....enjoy. 

A bit of info:

"The Sound of Jazz" is a 1957 edition of the CBS television series Seven Lively Arts, and was one of the first major programmes featuring jazz to air on American network television.
The one-hour program aired on Sunday, December 8, 1957, at 5 p.m. Eastern Time, live from CBS Studio 58, the Town Theater at 851 Ninth Avenue in New York City. The show was hosted by New York Herald-Tribune media critic John Crosby, directed by Jack Smight, and produced by Robert Herridge. Jazz writers Nat Hentoff and Whitney Balliett were the primary music consultants.
The Sound of Jazz brought together 32 leading musicians from the swing era including Count Basie, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Billie Holiday, Jo Jones and Coleman Hawkins; the Chicago style players of the same era, like Henry "Red" Allen, Vic Dickenson, and Pee Wee Russell; and younger 'modernist' musicians such as Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, and Jimmy Giuffre. These players played separately with their compatriots (see the song list below), but also joined to combine various styles in one group, such as Red Allen's group and the group backing Billie Holiday on "Fine and Mellow".
The show's performance of "Fine and Mellow" reunited Billie Holiday with her estranged long-time friend Lester Young for the final time. Jazz critic Nat Hentoff, who was involved in the show, recalled that during rehearsals, they kept to opposite sides of the room. Young was very weak, and Hentoff told him to skip the big band section of the show and that he could sit while performing in the group with Holiday.
During the performance of "Fine and Mellow", Webster played the first solo. "Then", Hentoff remembered:
Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard, and [he and Holiday] were looking at each other, their eyes were sort of interlocked, and she was sort of nodding and half–smiling. It was as if they were both remembering what had been—whatever that was. And in the control room we were all crying. When the show was over, they went their separate ways.
Within two years, both Young and Holiday had died.

Noting that the cameras were employed as "straight reportorial tools", Jack Gould observed in a New York Times review: "It was the art of video improvisation wedded to the art of musical improvisation; the effect was an hour of enormously creative and fresh TV."

"The Sound of Jazz" was also released as a recording by CBS' then-subsidiary, Columbia Records, although the gramophone version is actually a rehearsal that preceded the telecast (recorded on December 4th at Columbia's 30th Street studios), and is not its soundtrack. The LP was released in 1958 as Columbia CL 1098, with liner notes by Eric Larrabee, and the cover photo by Tom Yee. It is the only LP of a Seven Lively Arts presentation. The recording does not include all of the performers on the TV show (Mulligan refused to participate because no additional payment was involved) and includes several who were not on the show. Bassist Walter Page rehearsed, and is featured on the LP, but collapsed on the way to the studio for the telecast. In the early 1980's Bob Hilbert's Pumpkin Records released the LP The Real Sound of Jazz which is the actual soundtrack to the television program.

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