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The Definitive Collection

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Album Review

Since the range of recording dates for Verve Records' Billie Holiday compilation The Definitive Collection stretches from her first session in 1935 to her last in 1958, it might be supposed that the album attempts to live up to its ambitious name. In fact, however, this disc is really a selection of 18 highlights from the portion of Holiday's catalog controlled by Verve's parent company, Universal Music, which is to say her work for Commodore, Decca, Clef, and Verve itself between 1939 and 1956, with a couple of tracks licensed from her mid-'30s work for Brunswick (now owned by Sony BMG); a track she recorded under a pseudonym for Capitol (now controlled by EMI) in 1942; and a track from her final album, Lady in Satin, released by Columbia (another Sony BMG label). Although the bulk of these performances date from the '40s, the chronological sequence gives a sense of Holiday's vocal development over the years, as her craft improved and the technical quality of her voice deteriorated. Many of her better-known songs are included, with the caveat that "God Bless the Child," "Billie's Blues," "Easy Living," "Solitude," "My Man," and "I Cover the Waterfront" are re-recordings. (Annotator Bill Dahl states the case made by some listeners that the later versions are superior to the earlier ones.) Absent a merger of the remaining major record labels, it may be impossible to attempt a comprehensive, not to mention "definitive," collection of Holiday's career peaks on a single disc. This one is not a bad attempt, but it still basically represents only a part of the story.


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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