A Recital By Billie Holiday
After an impasse in which she mostly recorded with tightly arranged groups (for Commodore) and big bands with strings (for Decca), Billie signed her last long-term contract with Norman Granz. He had showcased her as a star with his Jazz at the Philharmonic tours in the mid- and late forties, and when he signed her as a recording artist in 1952. He tried to repeat the small group magic of her early days. She participated on various sessions surrounded by old friends like Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Harry “Sweets” Edison“, Charlie Shavers and Cozy Cole, all of whom had participated on dates with her in the 1930’s, plus other big names from Granz’s payroll at the time, such as Paul Quinichette, Flip Phillips, Oscar Peterson, Alvin Stoller and Tony Scott.
This album contains recordings taken from her 1952 and 1954 sessions, and is an excellent sampler of her skills and charms. While the disc may appear to be just another throw-together of Holiday hits, with nothing in particular to distinguish it from the others, the arrangements, the performances and the recordings themselves are all wonderful. Backed by tight, laid-back session musicians (Oscar Peterson plays piano on many of the tracks – check out his solo on “Lover, Come Back to Me”). Holiday here enjoys the last full flush of her talents before health and substance abuse problems claimed her voice in the late ’50’s. On tracks like “He’s Funny That Way”, her raspy voice plays over melodies, caressing them, trailing off the end of phrases for emotional punctuation. Her tone is at once rich and wispy, managing simultaneously to convey vulnerability, despair, strength and sexuality.