I found this video yesterday. I have not been as utterly and completely blown away by a performance of any kind in a long, long time. There are two things about this clip that are very interesting. Actually there are more than two, but we'll keep it simple today. I'm playing this right now and I have this big grin on my face.
First off, this was recorded two years before Billie left us and she is in rough shape. Towards the end of her career, her voice was not what it once was, but she had lost none of her ability to sing, and by sing I mean transmit through her voice to us feeling even the essence of the song. In the words of Gary Giddins, "Her voice was frayed in those last years, but she communicated more deeply than ever, making banal songs more urgent and the good ones radiant." Miles Davis said, "I'd rather hear her now (1958.) She's become much more mature. Sometimes you can sing words every night for five years, and all of a sudden it dawns on you what the song means....So with Billie, you know she's not thinking about now what she was in 1937, and she's probably learned more about different things."
She can say more with one single word and note, than most singers today can in a whole song. I love watching her face, at times peaceful, at times you can see her thinking and listening, even working the song in her head. And I absolutely love the way she watches the soloists, truly appreciating their playing, even adoring in the case of Lester Young and Ben Webster. But behind the joy of her singing and her appreciation of her bandmates, there is a deep sadness and a hint of desperation in her eyes. I watch this video with joy and despair, having been in her shoes, at least partially. Her story is worse than my own, as I did not grow up as she did. Her childhood was horrible, and I cannot claim that, but I went through addiction so I share that with her. The joy comes from the music and from her sheer brilliance and artistry, and that of her bandmates.
And the second part of this video that is astounding her is band. Imagine a concert with Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney and Rick Wakeman backing up the singer. I'm sure I could come up with a better analogy, but the lineup is obscene. The first pair of solos is taken by tenor saxmen Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. After another verse, trombone player Vic Dickenson and baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan take turns. The final pair of soloists are Ben Webster on tenor sax and Roy Eldridge turning in a blistering trumpet solo. Watch Billie's face, particularly during the solos of Lester and Ben. Lester is amazing in his solos simplicity, yet deep bluesy feeling.
I share this with you in hopes you may enjoy it too. I would encourage watching this in it's entirety if you listened while reading. Go back and watch....oh, Lord....I'm being bossy, huh? Just a suggestion...lol. And I have one more quote about Lady Day in her last years....
"I feel there is no one in jazz who can come close in terms of emotional penetration to the Holiday on these tracks (referring to her last albums.) For those who say they liked the youthful Holiday and don't dig Billie in middle age, I would suggest they not abandon these records yet, and instead save them for their own middle age." - Nat Hentoff
2 years ago