(A Foggy Day - George & Ira Gershwin)
Billie Holiday (1915-1959) left us one of the most transcendent bodies of work in all of Western culture. Like Sinatra, who revered her, and unlike Sarah Vaughan, who followed her in the regal line of American female singers, Holiday did not read music – she simply is music.
There are those who aver that her voice, never a magnificent instrument but always a strikingly honest one, had by the Fifties lost the new-penny shininess of the Thirties and the woody warmth of the Forties. By the Fifties, though her voice had coarsened and her intonation tended to wobble. Miss Holiday knew her business in much the way that a knockout-fighter-turned-crafty-counterpuncher knows his. Revisiting tunes that she’d done in two previous decades, her stick-and-move, bob-and-weave phrasing made her mostly a winner. And, as always, her time was of championship caliber.
Though she knew these numbers inside and out, Billie Holiday continued to uncover new shadings, nuances, and meanings. What she may have lost vocally is more than offset by the feeling we gain.
(Introduction to Billie’s Best, 1992 PolyGram Records)