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The Commodore Master Takes (1939-44)

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Editors’ Notes

Anchored by "Strange Fruit," the stark evocation of malignant American racism that would become one of her signature songs, this chronicle of Billie Holiday's brief tenure at NYC jazz purveyor Milt Gabler's Commodore Records finds the singer at a crossroads as crucial to her career blossoming as it was controversial. Indeed, she likely wouldn't have recorded for the label at all had Columbia not balked at the explicit "Strange Fruit." Instead, her freelancing at Commodore offered the singer an opportunity to follow her mercurial muse in a way that was rare for any artist in the late '30's/early '40s, let alone a headstrong black woman with a personal life as stormy as her voice was magnificent. While the full sessions are available on The Complete Commodore Sessions), these are the 16 master takes that resulted, performances that cast Holiday in intimate small band settings, allowing the singer (who had just quit Artie Shaw's big band in frustration) and her blues/jazz-fueled sensibilities to soar to new heights.

Customer Reviews

Billie Holiday the Commodore Master Takes

A beautiful album with a terrific version of Strange Fruit, others have performed this song beautifully including Dee Dee Bridgewater, but nothing touches this take on the song. Amazingly good sound quality too given the era of its recording.

I recommend picking this album.

For those who are just looking for a good, solid Billie Holiday album. (amateur jazz fans like myself, basically) It is great sound quality and all your favorites.


Born: April 7, 1915 in Baltimore, MD

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s

The first popular jazz singer to move audiences with the intense, personal feeling of classic blues, Billie Holiday changed the art of American pop vocals forever. More than a half-century after her death, it's difficult to believe that prior to her emergence, jazz and pop singers were tied to the Tin Pan Alley tradition and rarely personalized their songs; only blues singers like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey actually gave the impression they had lived through what they were singing. Billie Holiday's...
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