MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, [a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook], I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week on the show, I’m chronicling a pivotal time period for the celebrated jazz singer Billie Holiday: the 1940s. Holiday began the decade as a 25 year old who was heralded as one of the most unique voices in jazz. She ended the decade at a low point, marred by drug addiction and a series of legal troubles. But in her wake, she left a series of phenomenal recordings. We’ll explore her 1940s work for Columbia, Commodore and Decca Records this hour, as well as a few key live recordings.
It’s Billie Holiday in the 1940s, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY”
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “STRANGE FRUIT”
Billie Holiday live in 1948 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, performing “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” and a song she made famous, the anti-lynching anthem “Strange Fruit.” This performance was seen as part of a series of comebacks she was making in 1948. The previous year, she had been arrested and sent to jail for heroin possession, which made her notorious in the tabloid press.
MUSIC CLIP - COLEMAN HAWKINS, “BODY AND SOUL”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re exploring the 1940s for one of the most acclaimed jazz singers in history: Billie Holiday.
The 1930s were a whirlwind of success for Billie Holiday: a discovery by Columbia record producer John Hammond, appearances with bandleaders like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, collaborations with instrumentalists like pianist Teddy Wilson, clarinetist Benny Goodman, and saxophonist Lester Young, and iconic performances at legendary venues like Cafe Society. And all of this before the age of 25.
She began the decade of the 1940s riding high. Since 1933, she had been on a streak of success cutting recordings for Columbia Records, along with the label’s subsidiaries Brunswick, Vocalian, and Okeh. These recordings would go on to be some of the most celebrated in all of vocal jazz history. In February 1940, she entered the studio to cut yet another legendary session, this time with Roy Eldridge featured on trumpet. The session included what writer Ted Gioia has called “the grandaddy of jazz ballads'' and “the quintessential torch song”: “Body and Soul.”
Eldridge’s trumpet solo has glimmers of the famous solo made by Coleman Hawkins the previous year, which was just making waves on the pop charts at the time of this recording. And Holiday’s performance shows her reshaping the melody to her own style, while also including at the end some lyrics that are often overlooked by other singers.
Here’s Billie Holiday and Roy Eldridge in February 1940 with “Body and Soul,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “BODY AND SOUL”
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “I HEAR MUSIC”
Two recordings from Billie Holiday in the year 1940. Just now, we heard one of her most swinging tunes, the Frank Loesser and Burton Lane song “I Hear Music,” from a September recording for Columbia. Before that, the immortal standard “Body and Soul,” from a February recording session, her last for the Vocalion label. Both sessions featured Roy Eldridge on trumpet, with whom she worked with both live and in the studio for much of that year.
1941 was a banner year for Holiday in the recording studio. She cut a grand total of a dozen songs that year. At least half of them—including songs like “Gloomy Sunday,” “I Cover The Waterfront,” and “Georgia On My Mind”—are all-timers for Holiday, some of her most memorable recordings.
Let’s hear two of those all-timers now, which are today forever associated with Holiday. The first one is the first song by Duke Ellington that she had performed since 1935, when she appeared alongside the bandleader in his film Symphony In Black.
Here is Billie Holiday in 1941 with her heartbreaking rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “SOLITUDE”
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “GOD BLESS THE CHILD”
Two iconic recordings from Billie Holiday on May 9, 1941. Just now, we heard a song she had a hand in writing, “God Bless The Child.” Holiday came up with the title, which was fleshed out by songwriter Arthur Herzog, and that song became a staple of her live recordings until the end of her life. Before that, the Duke Ellington song “Solitude.”
1942 was a difficult year for most musicians, not just Billie Holiday. A recording ban, imposed by the American Federation of Musicians and its leader James Petrillo, went into effect in August. For over a year and a half, she (like everyone else) did not record anything. And it was during this time that she began to get involved with narcotics, an addiction that would later derail her career.
The final recording she made that summer before the ban went into effect was a new song written by saxophonist Trummy Young with lyrics by Johnny Mercer called “Trav’lin Light.” Mercer, who was just starting a new record label called “Capitol,” arranged for the recording, bandleader Paul Whiteman and (for the first time in Holiday’s career) strings. Since Holiday was under contract with Columbia, she had to make this record for Capitol under the pseudonym “Lady Day.”
Here’s that recording now. Billie “Lady Day” Holiday in 1942 with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra performing the Trummy Young and Johnny Mercer song “Trav’lin’ Light,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “TRAV’LIN’ LIGHT”
Billie Holiday in 1942 with Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, the final recording she made before the long recording ban went into effect. That was “Trav’lin’ Light” by Trummy Young, Jimmy Mundy and Johnny Mercer.
MUSIC CLIP - CHET BAKER, “TRAV’LIN’ LIGHT”
We’ll have more from Billie Holiday in the 1940s in just a bit. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - DUKE ELLINGTON, “SOLITUDE”
MUSIC CLIP - ARTIE SHAW, “I COVER THE WATERFRONT”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring a decade in the life and career of jazz singer Billie Holiday this hour, 1940 to 1949.
When the recording ban was lifted in 1944, Billie Holiday started recording for a new boss: Milt Gabler. Gabler was in charge of recording pop songs for one label, Decca Records, and straight-ahead jazz number for another, Commodore Records.
Holiday started on the Commodore label, recording a total of twelve songs for them in March and April of that year. The songs all bounce along more or less at the same tempo, with reliable piano-playing by Eddie Heywood. The repertoire consisted mostly of older nostalgic standards, including a 1933 song that Holiday first recorded for the Columbia label in 1941. Let’s hear that one now.
This is Billie Holiday in 1944 with “I Cover The Waterfront,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “I COVER THE WATERFRONT”
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “I’LL BE SEEING YOU”
Billie Holiday in 1944 for the Commodore jazz label. Just now, we heard the 1938 song “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal, and the 1933 song “I Cover The Waterfront” by Johnny Green and Edward Heyman.
Billie Holiday soon moved from the more jazz-friendly Commodore label to the more commercial-friendly Decca label, where her boss, Milt Gabler, also happened to work. The idea for pushing Holiday in a more commercial direction was spurred on by a song. The tune “Lover Man” was given to Holiday to perform by songwriter Jimmy Davis and Ram Ramirez, and as soon as she started performing it in clubs, Gabler knew he could turn it into a hit record. Holiday demanded that the song be accompanied with strings, which pushed it even more firmly into the pop market of the 1940s.
The move to a more string-heavy commercial sound came as a surprise to audiences and critics, who were used to hearing Holiday as a jazz singer. “Lover Man” became one of the biggest hits of her career.
Let’s hear that song now, along with another pop record she made for Decca in the 1940s. Here is Billie Holiday in 1944 with “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be),” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “LOVER MAN”
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “DON’T EXPLAIN”
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “CRAZY HE CALLS ME”
A few Decca pop singles from Billie Holiday in the 1940s. Just now, we heard her in 1949 with one of her big hits, the Carl Sigman and Bob Russell tune “Crazy He Calls Me.” Before that in 1945 with “Don’t Explain,” a song she co-wrote with Arthur Herzog. And starting that set, her first single for Decca “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be), recorded in 1944.
Despite pushing herself in the pop direction with string-laden sides like these for Decca, Billie Holiday was still very firmly entrenched in the jazz world. For one, she started making guest appearances at Norman Granz’s famed Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts, appearing on stage in major concert halls among other jazz greats. And she continued to record jazz-forward songs both in a big band setting and in a small group setting.
First in this next set, let’s hear Billie Holiday live. This comes from a June 1946 performance at the Jazz At The Philharmonic concert series, recorded live in Carnegie Hall, and featuring an all-star jazz lineup, including her friend Lester Young on tenor saxophone. This is Billie Holiday with “All Of Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “ALL OF ME”
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “PORGY.”
Billie Holiday in 1948 with one of her more jazz-influenced sides for the Decca label. That was Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” recorded with pianist Bobby Tucker and his trio. Before that, we heard her live in 1946 at a Jazz At The Philharmonic concert with the standard “All Of Me.”
The end of the 1940s became increasingly difficult years for Billie Holiday. In 1947, the singer was arrested for narcotics possession, and as a result, lost her New York City Cabaret card. This made her unable to perform at a variety of clubs in the city, and thus, she lost a large portion of her income. She made a series of comebacks during this time, appearing live on stage at certain venues where she could perform, including a memorable solo performance at Carnegie Hall in 1948 to a sold-out crowd. And she recorded some of her most swinging records for Decca in 1949, including some blues numbers once performed by Bessie Smith.
However, the years of personal troubles were beginning to show in her voice. Still only in her 30s, she sounded much older. Yet, with every performance, she could still stun audiences. Her voice, even as it deteriorated in quality and color, seemed to only grow in its ability to express depth and emotion.
Take this recording from 1949 of the song “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone,” recorded for the Just Jazz Armed Forces Radio Show. Writer Will Friedwald says of this recording, quote, “Traffic seems to stop around it, time just stands still. Holiday transports you to a whole other place when she sings—No one has ever sounded so open, so alone, so fragile, so exposed, and so vulnerable.”
To close off this hour, this is Billie Holiday and pianist Jimmy Rowles live in 1949, stopping time with the song “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “I WONDER WHERE OUR LOVE HAS GONE”
Billie Holiday live in 1949 with the tune “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone.” That comes from the album Billie Holiday: Rare Live Recordings.
Thanks for tuning in to this Billie Holiday in the 1940s edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE PARKER, “LOVER MAN”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow