Michael Brooks is an old hand at making Billie Holiday compilations. It must be a pleasure, surely never a chore despite the huge responsibility, an ongoing fascination to present some of the most cherished jazz vocals in the history of recorded music and to steer them towards new listeners and satisfy the listeners who have been listening to Holiday all of their lives.
Brooks’ previous work includes the gigantic box set Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933–1944 which came out in the early-noughties as well as volumes of the Billie Holiday Collection. So how does this new one, released next week, just ahead of the centenary of Lady Day's birth on 7 April, stack up? Well the mastering is really good, the tracks clearly listed and their original issuing details acknowledged. The notes are only perfunctory but enough given that this is a relatively modest compilation in ambition but one that punches above its weight.
The music itself, this remarkable voice, timeless, totemic, intimate, casual, sad, evocative, vulnerable, strong, personal, and so much more besides in all its immediacy, heard on 20 songs covering 1935-45 which were originally issued as 78s by Brunswick, Vocalion, OKeh, Commodore and Decca and the disc opens with the sparkling ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’ recorded with Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra in 1935 (Benny Goodman a joy on clarinet). The other songs are ‘These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)’; then probably one of the small number of versions of ‘Summertime,’ you simply must have in your collection; the genius of the foot tapping ‘Billie’s Blues,’ another clarinettist this time none other than Artie Shaw’s contribution simply a revelation; ‘I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm’; ‘Why Was I Born?’; ‘I Must Have That Man,’ (both Benny Goodman and Lester Young on this version of the Fields/McHugh song with Billie); ‘I’ll Get By (As Long As I Have You)’; ‘Mean To Me’; ‘When A Women Loves A Man,’ with Lester Young in the orchestra; ‘You Go to My Head’; ‘The Very Thought Of You,’ again with Young in the orchestra; ‘I Can't Get Started,’ Pres here too; ‘Them There Eyes’; 'All of Me’; ‘God Bless The Child’; the marvellous ‘Gloomy Sunday’; ‘Strange Fruit,’ from 20 April 1939 with in the Holiday orchestra Sonny White on piano making a vital contribution; ‘Fine and Mellow’; and, the best possible way to draw this lovely compilation to a close, ‘Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be).’ SG