musicology #467


2LegendsClash II #3

(Billie Holiday – Pennies From Heaven)

Apologies for yesterday’s absence. Truth is I am feeling low and was unable to find whatever it is in me that makes themusicologist happen. For a few reasons life is on me like a concrete suit at the moment and even though I tried most of the day to post a cut both the words and the music eluded me so today I’m just going to lay a slice down, try not to get too wrapped up in the language of my solitude and let the two legends speak. But before Billie steps up for today’s piece of musicology hold this quote from nightclub owner Barney Josephson who was quoted to have said about her

”She never had a really big voice-it was small…..like a bell that rang and went a mile..”

Recorded for Brunswick in New York on November 1936 featuring Teddy Wilson & Orchestra; (Jonah Jones, Benny Goodman, Ben Webster, Allan Reuss, John Kirby and Cozy Cole)

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8 thoughts on “musicology #467

  1. I hope you listened to this little piece of magic a few times and it lifted the gloom, if only a little bit, for you. It certainly had that effect on me. Thanks for the music.

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    1. Ian,
      I did and it did..thank you
      comments like yours make all the effort worthwhile.
      chuffed to hear that it spoke to you too
      themusicologist

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  2. Billie Holiday. Every time I hear her voice it stops me in my tracks. Dinah Washington is a fantastic singer (one of my most worn albums – till I lost it – was Dinah’s “September In The Rain”, and her album with Brook Benton, “The Two Of Us”, is a classic) but she is not THE greatest. Billie Holiday IS.

    Billie Holiday is a class of her own. She’s unique. No other female artist comes across so nakedly true. The honesty is almost painful to listen to sometimes. The quote you mention about a little bell heard (crystal clear) miles away is nailed on!

    The first time Billie Holiday stopped me in my (metaphorical) tracks was in a south London pub: yes Guv’ believe it or not but for a fleeting moment in time The Ship, Long Lane S.E.1 was an oasis of “cool vibes” in a south London cultural desert – Roy Budd’s jazz combo serving up live music 3/4 nights a week; their “hip” sets bridged by one of the musicians (doubling up as DJ of sorts) playing some of the “coolest” recorded sounds my tender (y)ears had experienced. I think I first heard Ray Charles at The Ship.

    But I digress…. Billie Holiday.

    “These Foolish Things”, “Your Mother’s Son-in-Law”, “The Way You Look Tonight”, “My Man”, “Them There Eyes”, “When Your Lover Has Gone” and my original favourite the J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie composition “You Go To My Head”. These – and more – Billie Holiday classics hooked me to the mysterious, exciting world of a more commercial (popular perhaps?) modern American Jazz music. She also awakened something else “American” in my consciousness!

    One of the Billie Holiday songs played to a suddenly strangely rapturous audience by The Ship DJ was “Strange Fruit”. I can’t say I “dug it” but I took it in. Or so I thought!

    It wasn’t till I’d “grown up” that I even half-ways understood the significance and symbolism of Billie’s tour de force “Strange Fruit” (and it wasn’t until I’d moved on from growing up i.e recently, that I fully understood the “weight” of that song).

    Southern trees bear strange fruit,
    Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
    Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
    Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
    Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
    The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
    Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
    Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
    Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
    For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
    For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
    Here is a strange and bitter crop.

    Check this…….. (acknowledgements Wikipedia)

    “Holiday approached her recording label, Columbia, about recording the song. Columbia, fearing a backlash by record retailers in the South as well as possible negative reaction from affiliates of Columbia’s co-owned radio network, CBS, refused to record the song. Even her great producer at Columbia, John Hammond, refused. In frustration, she turned to her friend Milt Gabler (uncle of comedian Billy Crystal), whose Commodore label produced alternative jazz. Holiday sang “Strange Fruit” for him a cappella, and the song moved Gabler so much that he wept.”

    If that don’t bring a lump to the throat……….

    P.S.
    persevere with the concrete suit
    persevere with writers block
    persevere with us your audience.

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    1. The Ship…that’s not the boozer on the other side of Rotherhithe park is it? I’m terrible on street names…I’m a landmarks man mesang !!
      nice piece of writing by the way.

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    1. when two ‘sounds’ clash it’s the audience who are judge and jury….after the dust settles on this theme I’ll post the ‘scores’
      the champion sound is the one who attracts the most attention. Both are equally majestic although for me Dinah reaches vocal heights that Billie never could but without Billie, (the same goes for Louis Armstrong), what followed would not have been the same. Father Armstrong started it…Billie took it to new heights and then Dinah arrived and nailed it.

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  3. Yeah, you could be right. The scholar will always vote for Dinah… great, powerful lungs an’ all that!

    But is that what a voice (and don’t get me started on personality/attitude) is all about? Is that the deciding factor to “star” quality?

    It’s a bit like The Miracles/Temptations debate back there on themusicologist #374. Who’s better, the groundbreakers or end-product? Is it authenticity/originality or finished/polished article? (ahem, excuse the “polish” pun)

    I know where my vote goes!!

    Thanks for the “by the way”… I’ve have had my head up in the clouds / down in the dumps for a while…. couldn’t even look at a keyboard!!

    The Ship, Long Lane, S.E.1. South East one. Not 17 or 10 or any other number. I repeat S.E.ONE. The number “one” manor my good sir!!!

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    1. not just the scholar squire..Dinah and Billie were cut from the same stone. FAR more than just a voice. just like to add that for me it’s certainly not about better.
      S.E1. The big bad South..authentic London hahahahahahahahaha…let’s see if any north of the river cats have a ‘stewards’ on that !!

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