Ken Burns Jazz: Billie Holiday


In conjunction with the release of Ken Burns’ ten-part, 19-hour epic PBS documentary Jazz, Columbia issued 22 single-disc compilations devoted to jazz’s most significant artists, as well as a five-disc historical summary. Since the individual compilations attempt to present balanced overviews of each artist’s career, tracks from multiple labels have thankfully been licensed where appropriate. That’s especially nice in the case of Billie Holiday, who recorded excellent and essential work for Columbia, Commodore, Decca, and Verve.

Since her signature numbers were also spread out over those labels, and since Ken Burns Jazz includes pretty much all of her best-known songs, this makes an excellent introduction and an even better single-disc retrospective. No previous Holiday compilation gathers her original recordings of “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” “Gloomy Sunday,” “Lover Man,” and “Lady Sings the Blues.” While the collection isn’t quite perfect — some might miss “Tain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do” or her cover of Bessie Smith’s “Them There Eyes” — it is the only one to draw from Holiday’s entire output, and as such, it’s truly a best-of.