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Billie Holiday: The Sensitive Billie Holiday 1940-1949

Speaking of birthdays, as heralded on this issue’s cover, 2005 also marks what would have been Billie Holiday’s 90th; cause for yet another barrage of commemorative compilations. Grandest and most glorious is the innovative, triple-disc, career-spanning, CD/DVD Ultimate Collection; but also worthy of note is Storyville’s The Sensitive Billie Holiday (a redundant title if there ever was one), a marvelous, 26-track disc, spanning studio and live recordings from 1940-49. Listen to the sweet ebullience of “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” (one of her last sessions in the company of Teddy Wilson), the silken coyness of “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” (live from the first annual Esquire jazz concert in January ’42, with fellow all-stars Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins and Art Tatum) or a pert “Let’s Do It” (marking the end of her studio work with her greatest musical partner, Lester Young). Of course, Holiday also sings of heartache and pain, and did so more brilliantly than anyone, but most of these tracks were cut before the crushing weight of her hellish personal life invaded her every musical fiber. You can, though, begin to hear the pain in a live 1949 performance of “Maybe You’ll Be There” (with, among others, Red Norvo, Neil Hefti and Jimmy Rowles) and an utterly gorgeous, strings-heavy “You Better Go Now” (from the same year, placing her in the unlikely company of the Percy Faith Orchestra), as the bruised self-reflection that would soon become her stock-in-trade starts creeping in around the edges.

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