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The Commodore Master Takes

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Album Review

If you're a completist who insists on having everything that Billie Holiday recorded, The Complete Commodore Recordings is required listening. But for the more casual listener, it's best to pass on that two-CD set and stick with The Commodore Master Takes. While The Complete Commodore Recordings contains all of the alternate takes that Holiday recorded for Commodore in 1939 and 1944, this collection only concerns itself with the master takes (which total 16). Holiday never singed an exclusive contract with Commodore — she only freelanced for the label, and the ultra-influential jazz singer spent a lot more time recording for Columbia in the 1930s and early 1940s, and for Decca from 1944-1950. But her Commodore output was first-rate, and Lady Day excels whether she's joined by trumpeter Frankie Newton's octet at a 1939 session or by pianist Eddie Heywood's orchestra at three sessions in 1944. The CD gets off to an impressive start with the controversial "Strange Fruit," a bone-chilling account of lynching in the Deep South that ended up being released on Commodore because Columbia was afraid to touch it. Holiday is also quite expressive on performances that range from "Fine and Mellow," "I Got a Right to Sing the Blues" and "Yesterdays" in 1939 to "My Old Flame," "Billie's Blues," "I'll Be Seeing You," and "He's Funny That Way" in 1944. For those with even a casual interest in Holiday's legacy, this superb CD is essential listening.


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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