Lady Day and Prez
This compilation on the Giants of Jazz label gets you an excellent selection of 16 classic Billie Holiday and Lester Young collaborations recorded between 1937 and 1941. These are very special recordings indeed: Billie seems to mean everything she is singing and displays a mastery of jazz phrasing to rival any of her instrumental peers, while Prez uses his short solo spots to produces a series of perfect vignettes that transcend the music he is improvising on.
This compilation on the Spanish Blue Moon label collects together many of the great mid-period Holiday recordings cut between 1944 and 1950. She is at the height of her fame at this time, and is accompanied by a variety of different studio orchestras playing fairly conventional arrangements. The first track is the definitive version of ‘Loverman’, and a good proportion of the rest of her famous repertoire is to be found here in classic form, but what makes this disk particularly worth searching out are the versions of the Bessie Smith numbers ‘Gimme a pigfoot’ and ‘Do your duty’. In principle these seem like highly unlikely choices, since unlike Bessie, Billie was hardly the pigfoot-eating, gin-swilling type, and the references to men in her lyrics were usually tragic rather than bawdy, but somehow she finds her own, utterly convincing way of delivering these lyrics.
The Silver Collection
This collection on the Verve label issues sessions Holiday recorded in 1956-7 with a small group including Ben Webster on tenor, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison on trumpet, and Barney Kessel on guitar. The group sound and recording quality are excellent, the selection of material is interesting, there are some nice arrangements, and the soloists are their usual brilliant selves. The main action, however, is of course provided by Billie, whose voice at this late stage in her career sounds world-weary and almost overloaded with emotion. You are, of course, listening to the effects of years of drug abuse, combined with deteriorating health and some serious emotional problems. But you are also listening to the highest level of jazz artistry.