A Day with Lady Day

Woke up, peaked out the window, crawled right back into bed because snow had already covered the ground, and I have nowhere else to go. On a gloomy day like this, I was longing for some sentimental tunes, and Billie Holiday immediately came to mind. I quickly turned on my stereo, inserted The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve 1945-1959, and admitted the bittersweet vocals carried me through the day. She sang with so much emotions that when she phrased, “I’ve been down so long / that down don’t worried me” on “Stormy Blues,” we could feel her soul. Even the muted trumpet echoed her pain when she crooned, “I lose my man / I lose my head / I lose my money / Feel like I am almost dead.” She epitomized pain or as Gary Giddins described as “lady of pain.” And below is an interesting point of view on Holiday from Ted Gioia in his History of Jazz:

Holiday’s accomplishments are all the more remarkable when one realizes the limitations within which she worked. Her range, at best, spanned a scant one-and-a-half octaves. Her voice, moreover, did not project strongly—unlike, say, Bessie Smith, who also had a modest range, but could compensate by belting out a song to the back rows. Holiday lacked the scat-singing chops of an Ella Fitzgerald, the tonal purity of a Sarah Vaughan, the exuberance of a Louis Armstrong but what she had more than made up for these deficiencies. Her mastery was rooted in an incomparable sense of timing, phrasing that was supple yet uncommonly relaxed, and, above all, an ability to infuse a lyric with hitherto unknown depths of meaning. One might say that Billie Holiday was a stylist, not a virtuoso—unless emotional depth is a type of virtuosity. Her interpretations cut to the quick of a song, crafting a music of interiors, not surfaces.

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