Billie Holiday's singing had nothing like the velvet beauty of Sarah Vaughan's or the rhythmic agility of Ella Fitzgerald's, and yet she was (IMHO) the greatest jazz/blues singer ever. Her phrasing and her emotional intensity lifted her small voice to the creative level of Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, and Lester Young, her closest musical peer. The final track on this DVD - "Fine and Mellow", a nine-minute session recorded in 1957 - is one of the richest examples both of Holiday's expressive art and of jazz improvisation on film. The session band included sax-players Young, Hawkins, Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan; trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Doc Cheatham; trombone Viv Dickenson, pianist Mal Waldon; bassist Milt Hinton; and drummer Osie Johnson. So many over-sized players, and still such tight, mellow, generous ensemble! I love those guys! I'd take my share of racial and chemical abuse to be part of such a session.
The two 1950 tracks of Billie with Count Basie are also special; the film is grainy and fuzzy, but the sound quality is better than most and has been well-reengineered on this DVD. The other tracks, mostly with the Mal Waldron Orchestra, are of dismal quality both in picture and sound, but hey! it doesn't matter. There's so little of Billie Holiday on film - such shabby little fragments really, of such a sublime and unique performer - that one can only kneel in gratitude to have anything.
And then there's the 'title' song, Strange Fruit. Is everybody prepared to have heartbreak? The social/historical context of American racism and apartheid is never far below the surface of the Blues, but the words of the poem Strange Fruit, sung by tragic Billie Holiday, transcend music and entertainment, and need to etched in our souls forever.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
Aug 14, 2010
Aug 31, 2010 06:58 PM UTC
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
NTSC/Region 0. 13 rare performances from the legendary jazz vocalist filmed throughout the '50s. Features Billie backed by other Jazz luminaries like Count Basie, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Doc Cheatham, Mal Waldron and others. MJOD. 2007.