Wednesday, April 7

... let's just go walking in the rain

Billie Holiday, age 2 (1917)
Don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain — Billie Holiday

The great Billie Holiday was born 95 years ago today, on April 7th 1915. In my personal pantheon, there has never been a greater singer in sheer capacity to transfix and move the listener. Much beloved by her fellow musicians, her own musicianship was of the highest order and her raconteurship emotionally riveting. The jewels she hewed from the mountains of despair that formed the landscape of her life still radiate light today.

For some reason, I cannot look at the moon without seeing Lady Day's face. I do not remember when or why this began and only know that this is so and has been for practically all of my adult life.

Billie Holiday — Evening Standard/Getty Images
Many years ago when I saw filmed images of Billie Holiday for the first time I was struck by how graceful, composed and relaxed she seemed when she sang. Before that I had relied on album cover photos and my imagination as to how she must have looked while performing. Given the tremendous emotional force of her records, I guess I had conjured up writhing images of a contorted, grimacing face, eyes closed tight, head thrown back, mouth locked in the siren's rictus. This was before I had learned that valuable lesson enunciated by Sarah Vaughan when she said that the great artists always seem to be holding something back.

But in this performance, Billie Holiday just seemed to be sitting on a bar stool, cool, calm and naturally, jes talkin' atcha. I was struck by the realization that everything I had heard on all those vinyls was just her way of talking. But, oh, the things she had to say ...

Painting by Merryl Jaye
I embed that famous clip below, taken from 'The Sounds of Jazz' TV show which first aired in December 1957, with an incredible lineup of jazz greats accompanying her on Fine and Mellow, one of the few songs Billie Holiday wrote herself. The recording was made around a year and a half before she died. Her voice was not at its finest, but yet this is considered by many to be the finest piece of jazz ever recorded.  One of the tenor sax players on the date was Lester Young, with whom she had been, for many years, especially "close". He was the man who christened her 'Lady Day' and she was the first to call him 'Prez', the nicknames by which they came to be known by their fellow musicians and for posterity.

For me, and many others, the highlight is the expression on Lady Day's face as Lester Young begins to blow his gently simmering blues, the way she nods and shakes her head as the Prez hits that sweet spot. Take a look and listen (Lester Young's solo is the second one, after Ben Webster's) ...

white gardenias sway
under a mesmeric moon
so fine and mellow

The lineup of musicians is given in the introduction by the show's host and producer Robert Herridge. The order of the solos is:
Ben Webster - tenor sax
Lester Young - tenor sax
Vic Dickenson - trombone
Gerry Mulligan - baritone sax
Coleman Hawkins - tenor sax
Roy Eldridge - trumpet


  1. so beautiful...and a happy birthday...great tribute!

  2. she is one of my absolute favorite artists!

    Happy Birthday Billie!

    Thanks for remembering her.

  3. I agree, her expressions are priceless. Gifted admiring gifted.

  4. What a gift she was to us. That last photo is one of my favorites!

  5. You really need to get yourself into art publications. These op/ed pieces are phenomenal.

    I have to admit, I'm a Shirley Bassey man, myself. Heh...

  6. A great Lady, one of my favourite jazz singers.

  7. A lovely mellow little treat of a thursday morning,

  8. Not only an exquisite voice, but a beautiful woman with a face full of character. Thanks Lorenzo.

  9. wonderful tribute.... a tragedy her life was so short (44 years) but those brilliant stars so often shine bright but die fast.

  10. Nicely written, Lorenzo! What a face and what a voice. Great clip.

  11. She is the top! Happy Birthday Billie! Thanks for sharing!
    :) The Bach

  12. Never seen that clip before, a real treat, enjoyed every second of it.Thanks ye!

  13. Love her singing ---- also love that painting of her by Painting Merryl Jaye. Lorenzo your style of writing is like a true poet.

    I wonder if Kevin Costner, was inspired by Billie's natural style of performance when he instructed Whitney Houston to sing that song "I will always Love You" in the movie The Bodyguard (1992) He had her sat on a stool and sing the song. Just musing. Inspiration has to come from somewhere ...
    I Will Always Love was not original to this movie Dolly Parton wrote the song. She also sang the song in her own movie.
    Nice read.


  14. Oh, I just adore Billie Holliday, but my, what beautiful photos of her and how wonderful to watch her sing here. Thanks for the lovely tribute. That was fabulous! Happy birthday, Billie!

  15. I just adore Holiday. Her voice has such extraordinary texture! I used to love singing along with her records with faux-raspiness! She is fabulous!

  16. I'm so humbled by your weaving of words, your knowledge, your sense of art.

    Of course you would love this amazing talent.
    I had trouble with the clip the first time, but will try again.

  17. A superb tribute, and I am glad that it is so embedded with your personal connection to her. I thought I knew every image and song of hers, but the second photo is new to me. Thanks for sharing.


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