The Stacks: Billie Holiday: Jazz’s Aching Songbird
Her life had all the cliches of the jazz world: horrible childhood, meteoric rise to fame, addiction, bad affairs. But when she opened her mouth to sing, none of that mattered.
When I first started listening to jazz I was overwhelmed. I didn't know how I'd ever be able to tell the difference between Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, didn't know how I'd ever determine the difference between John Coltrane and someone imitating Coltrane. I'm still an amateur but I can tell you this: the first performers I could identify by ear were Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, and Billie Holiday. Their sound is so specific, so singular, that even to the untrained ear, they are identifiable.
We're lucky that Net Hentoff was on hand to record so much of the Jazz scene in the '50s and '60s, and here he cuts through the popular mythology that often obscures Holiday's great talent and shows us the depth of her musical gift. From Jazz Is —and reprinted here with the author's permission--please enjoy this meditation on one of the greatest artists this country has ever produced.