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Billie's Best

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Album Review

There is no end in sight to the debate over Billie Holiday's career as a vocalist: Is the essence of her art to be found in her early recordings for Columbia or in the recordings she made for Verve at the end of her short and, by all accounts, miserable life? The early work finds her in clearer voice and singing with energy and conviction, while in the later recordings her voice is ravaged, yet more soulful and perhaps more nuanced. In 1992 Verve made its case for the latter position by releasing a monumental ten-disc box set containing everything Holiday recorded for the company between 1945-1959, and simultaneously released this 16-track sampler as a palliative to those who didn't have 150 dollars lying around. Nothing here will settle the argument for good, but this album does offer a good cross section of the latter part of her career, from the small-ensemble work with pianists Oscar Peterson and Jimmy Rowles to a nice performance of "All the Way" with an orchestra conducted by Ray Ellis. This probably should not be anyone's only Billie Holiday album, but it's a valuable, and at times moving, document of the end of a sad but illustrious career.


Born: 07 April 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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