The Billie Holiday Guide

A pre-album genius in key songs and unforgettable longforms, with extra consumer advice

Lady in Satin
[1958, Columbia]

Yes, her voice is a shadow of what it was, but in its honesty, artistry, and poignant beauty, her penultimate album is one of the most important works produced by the exquisite Lady Day. "You've Changed" and "I'm a Fool to Want You" trouble us long after listening. "You Don't Know What Love Is" has convinced generations that they haven't been in love without having experienced loss, desperation, and insomnia.

Holiday: No regrets
photo: Don Hunstein/Sony Music.
Holiday: No regrets


See also:
  • The Thelonious Monk Guide
    He recorded the same songs over and over and never wore them out.
    by Larry Blumenfeld

  • The John Coltrane Guide
    From sideman to mesmerizer to evangelical to interstellar space
    by Francis Davis

  • The Sun Ra Guide
    Magic cities and other planes of there, all disguised as jazz
    by John F. Szwed

  • The David Murray Guide
    Our greatest tenor man began with Ayler and Gonsalves and kept going
    by Tom Hull

  • 2006 Jazz Supplement Listings

  • The Ultimate Collection
    [1935–1958 (2005 ), Verve]

    Holiday also proved charismatic and compelling in a number of film clips. The greatest of these is the 1957 CBS broadcast The Sound of Jazz: Lady Day with Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Gerry Mulligan, Roy Eldridge, and Jo Jones, to name a few in a ritual-like jam session. Though the clip has been released in many formats, this one is valuable because it comes with others. The face and body transform, the texture and timbre of the voice evolve, but she always manages to communicate with a simple gesture: a lifted eyebrow, a tilt of the head, a snap of the finger. In the beginning, these gestures communicate a mischievous flirta-tion; by the end they connote a depth of wisdom that is matched by the grain of her voice. In addition, although this career-spanning collection misses many high points, the beginning listener could do worse than start with it.

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