Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve 1945-1959 (Limited Edition)
Genres: Blues, Jazz, Pop, Broadway & Vocalists
That's right: Ten CDs with everything Billie Holiday recorded on Verve Records between 1945 and her death in 1959--not only the songs, but concert introductions, some of the rehearsals, and between-take studio chatter, t... more »
That's right: Ten CDs with everything Billie Holiday recorded on Verve Records between 1945 and her death in 1959--not only the songs, but concert introductions, some of the rehearsals, and between-take studio chatter, too. All of which makes for a definitive portrait of Lady Day in her final years. For a long time these recordings were disparaged because it was said her voice was no longer fine and mellow, "ravaged" by hard living, jail time, booze, and drugs. And there's no question that her later tone is darker, more brittle and unstable than it had been in the '30s--but somehow I find myself listening to this music more often than those Brunswick/Columbia or Decca sides, anyway. Like Frank Sinatra, who so often paid tribute to her influence, Holiday's artistry was never based on virtuosity; it was about interpretation, bringing out the emotions in a song and giving a personal reading. She never stopped doing that, and for all the "strange fruit" you'll find in this collection, it's a gold mine. --Jim Emerson
Great Music, Bad Layout
James Morris | Jackson Heights, NY United States | 11/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My Five Star rating is for the music.
I am a long time Billie Holiday fan and love all of her music; it's taken many years, but I am confident that I have acquired virtually everything she ever recorded. Although I enjoy every period of her musical development, I am particularly fond of the tracks she recorded for Norman Granz on the Verve label in the 1950's. Naturally, I was thrilled when this box set was announced.
While I am grateful to have so complete a box set as Verve has issued here, I have severe problems with the way the material is presented. It's nice that they have released virtually everything in the Verve vaults, but in so doing they have included live performances, alternate takes, false starts, and even some rehearsals. That would have been fine with me, if they hadn't decided to place everything in strictly chronological order. We therefore get Lady Day's great studio sessions interspaced with live concert performances, chatter, rehearsals and incomplete takes, and the total effect makes for very poor continuity. It also makes the boxed set, on the whole, very difficult to enjoy.
A few of the live concert performances have never been released before, and I was thrilled to hear some "new" Billie Holiday. But the audio quality and Billie's performance varies greatly on the live material, and the result is very uneven. And the inclusion of the rehearsal material is questionable, even if you're a die-hard fan like me.
The 1955 rehearsal with Jimmie Rowles is particularly problematic. This session was released on an LP called Songs and Conversations shortly after Billie's death, and I was frankly surprised to find it included here. It consists of mostly drunken rambling conversation while Billie rehearses with her favorite and most sympathetic pianist. Some of the language is quite raunchy, although most of the discussion is hard to follow anyway, as the audio quality is particularly poor. The alternate studio takes are frequently annoying, especially when they include two or three false starts in a row, and the spoken intros by Norman Granz often included in the master takes are completely unnecessary. It would have worked so much better if they had simply separated the live concert material from the studio sessions and then saved the alternate takes, false starts and rehearsal material for the last couple of discs. It's a pity - I would love to be able to listen to all of Billie's wonderful 1950's studio sessions all the way through, without the distractions of the extra material. Happily, I see that Verve will release a new boxed set of just the studio masters in December 2005. Hopefully they will skip all the chatter (I don't need to hear Mr. Granz announce "All Or Nothing At All, take 5"). A great deal of expense and angst could have been avoided if the track layout for this set had simply been better thought out.
As for Billie's performances, there is not a bad moment in any of the studio recordings presented here, including the notorious three April 54 tracks that she later dismissed, complaining that the band was drunk. The musicians are all first rate throughout these sessions, and present her with the sympathetic backing she deserved and worked best with.
Christopher Drake | Kazkahstan | 02/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In reference to the Dec 7th/2001 review by Michael Mccarthy:
I to bought this when it was originally released and aside from the collected songs and book - which cannot be faulted - the package was as Michael points out beautifully done - it did in fact win a Grammy (for the packaging and the way it was put together - all hardbound etc)- I had intended to buy this box set for my Daughter - however after having read Michael's review I chose not to pay the high cost given the packaging has been downgraded..Like Michael I cannot understand why they would have done this given the cost remains basically the same. If your looking at purchasing I would read Michael's review and then look for the original...
Keith Grant KGA | Barcelona, Spain | 10/04/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Complete Billie Holiday On Verve, 1945-1959
This edition was given to me for Xmas by someone special. And in among over 3000 CDs (and a whole load of vinyl), it is one of the most treasured collections I own (indeed, one of my most treasured possessions). This is Billie at her most vulnerable or resilient; either way this is Billie Holiday distilled, the essence of what makes her immortal. This was the Billie I first heard, when someone else special bought me the double Verve LP Lady Sings the Blues in my post punk, emerging new romantic melancholic youth. I remain as blown away now as I was then.
The performances here are arguably her best, and most certainly her most distinctive; this is Billie Holiday without reference to anyone else, having reached a zenith of originality. The paired down arrangements and accompanying groups bring her closer to jazz than big band, and it's where she finds her full emotional expression. Her voice improved with age like a great vintage wine. And while earlier Billie might be easier on the ear, the music contained in this edition demands spiritual empathy. This is Billie in the same zone as Mile's in Kind of Blue, or Coltrane in A Love Supreme. This is her jazz greatness.
The quality of the CD transfers is flawless; the clarity and the resolution puts you right there with her. It's a wonder that modern mastering can exact such fidelity from the recording technology of the 50s: exemplary.
The collection, being complete, contains flunked takes and taped rehearsals - stuff you will more often than not skip - but it's nice that they they are there, for the odd occasion when you feel the urge to linger backstage. As glorious as the attention to the music, is that taken over the accompanying artwork and booklet. To be fair it could be regarded as a publication in its own right; the effort and expense that must have gone into producing it goes way beyond the normal parameters of commercial record releases. In all the years I have yet to read it all. Along with the documentary narrative of of her career and the reproduced cover artwork and fabulous photographs, there are "producers' comments" and interviews with musicians who accompanied her in this period. Then there is the packaging - two bound booklets, one containing the discs and the other the booklet (and a set of miniature sleeve artworks from the original issued recordings). Shame on those who gripe at the price - this is one of the best value box sets ever produced; an absolute labour love to be treasured to the grave. To be sure I will take care to single it out for someone lucky when making my will."