BILLIE HOLIDAY / “Solitude Mixtape”

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Billie is a time machine. A voice that throws us back, her song takes us to the edges of our hearts. Touching a time when love was strong, strongly felt, experienced through and through as blood flowing from heart to brain to toes and back again. A Sunday spent with someone and there was nothing else but the beauty of the day, the way the sun shone in the kitchen, the eggs half eaten, the chilled orange juice glass gone warm as the kiss that interrupted eating with a feast of love making. A breakfast so delicious it sufficed until way past supper, and the way we remember that time, not with regret or sorrow, or anything maudlin, but rather a moment we finger like the small scar on the left calf, carrying us back into what was a sweet suite of minutes whose taste will never leave our tongue. As long as we can hear Bilie, so long as oxygen can enter our lungs powered by our body functioning, until when our moving finger can caress no more, right up to the ultimate ending of death’s decay. Like that.

This is Billie Holiday entering the end, the pain-filled deterioration of her voice in the fifties but the compensation of an unconquerable artistry. She was singing when death came knocking in her room. There was hardly any voice left, not much energy—and yet, as we all can hear, Billie took what little was left and made so much music with it. So much. Swinging hard, the arc of an aching lyricism. Nobody has ever touched how thoroughly she touched all us who had ears for this.
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This is an aural photo album of moving moments (or, sometimes, moments that stopped us dead in our tracks, leaving us petrified like Lot's wife). Not necessarily true love with a special someone or anything Hollywood romantic like that. No. Rather just the sliver of sweet moments from a multiplicity of times hanging from a low lying bough on the tree of our lives like the soft of silver-grey Spanish moss draped from a Louisiana oak tree in New Orleans.

That’s Charlie Shavers moaning on trumpet, occasionally squeezing out a high note or two like we do when our irrepressible moment of coming comes. The rhythm section steady forward, rocking hips back and forth, but not just the physical also the hugeness of genuine feelings of grace, the blessing of two becoming one like the way the bass and drum are diastole/systole heartbeat. No matter that it did not last. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing. And some lasting is so brief but it’s briefness in no way detracts from the realness, from how long its memory will last.

Billie Holiday—our lady of memories. We step into our inner selves and open the door to the ghosts of past happiness when we listen to her tapping on our eardrum.

Billie Holiday—she is not someone who can be understood by those who are so young that they have no old memories. You have to have been there once upon a time to appreciate how Billie carries you back.

There are thousands of singers who possess prettier sounds but none who can match the emotion her husk of a voice conjures. Here Billie is in the fifties forever laying down the meaning of cool jazz, the sounding reminiscing makes when you are alone with your thoughts and your thoughts won’t leave you alone.

Billie steps so deliberately through the changes, a tightrope walker, eyes closed negotiating the narrow of savoring past passions that were purchased at great emotional expense and are now both as ephemeral as, as well as, as real as the intangible realness of music—we may not be able to touch music, but music sure enough touches us.

When all that all of the loving has left is nothing but keloids on the heart and unending memories that we will carry to the next life, indelible signage that in the previous world there were moments when we lived, fully, thoroughly, giving everything we had.

If you can listen to Billie and not think about your life then either you are still too young to have fully lived or else you are truly dead.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

Solitude Mixtape Playlist
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This all is from a 1952 album called Solitude, which is the first of the magnificent small combo series on the Verve label. At another time I will share some of those recordings but for now consider this as a necessary initiation before the full celebration.

The band is: Billie Holiday (vocals); Flip Phillips (tenor saxophone); Charlie Shavers (trumpet);Oscar Peterson (piano); Barney Kessel (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); Alvin Stoller (drums).

Here is the essence of behind the beat phrasing, the mastery of making first class music out of second-class songs, with only an occasional fresh melody to work with, and, not unlike an experienced quilter salvaging scraps, Billie crafts a magnificent raiment of many colors from the emotional shreds, stitching together oddities and leftovers into a wondrous wholeness.

This is both a primer and a master class: a whole seminar on singing.
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01 “I Only Have Eyes For You”
02 “Love For Sale”
03 “Solitude”
04 “These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)”
05 “If The Moon Turns Green”
06 “Everything I Have Is Yours”
07 “Moonglow”
08 “You Go To My Head”
09 “Tenderly”
10 “Remember”
11 “Autumn In New York”

This entry was posted on Monday, May 25th, 2009 at 5:49 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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