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Billie Holiday|The Complete Commodore/Decca Masters

The Complete Commodore/Decca Masters

Billie Holiday

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Although many of Billie Holiday's recordings for Commodore and Decca are often overlooked -- at least in comparison to the songs that bookend her career (for Columbia and Verve) -- they include some of her best work, beginning at the end of the '30s with "Strange Fruit" and stretching to the end of the '40s with "God Bless the Child." In 1939, Billie Holiday was a jazz sensation without a hit record. She gained that hit record, and began her journey to musical immortality, when her label Columbia refused to record "Strange Fruit," and jazz fan Milt Gabler welcomed her to his aficionado label, Commodore. Gabler recorded Holiday often over the next ten years, both at Commodore and through his work at Decca in the mid-to late '40s. While on Commodore, Holiday focused on downcast ballads, including "I Cover the Waterfront" and "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" (dubbed "loser" songs by Gabler), but she also excelled with warm and affectionate material too, "Embraceable You" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Regardless of the material, her backing consisted of small groups usually led by a pair of saloon-sound maestros: Doc Cheatham on trumpet and Eddie Heywood on piano. That sound was in for a switch when Holiday moved to Decca, however, beginning with another big hit, "Lover Man," a pop ballad with the full crossover treatment -- strings and all. (Gabler had no compunction about false notions of purity, and he happily recorded Holiday with strings and backing choruses whenever the song demanded it.) Even more than her work for Commodore, Holiday's work for Decca was melancholy and resigned in the extreme, with sterling treatments of yet more loser songs: "Don't Explain," "Good Morning Heartache," "You Better Go Now," and "What Is This Thing Called Love." Individually, the songs are excellent, and as a package, The Complete Commodore & Decca Masters can hardly be beat. It's a splendid accompaniment to similar sets devoted to Billie Holiday's Columbia and Verve output, and while completists will bemoan the lack of the many alternate takes -- most of the Commodore sides have two alternate takes for each master recording, available elsewhere -- this is all the war-years Billie Holiday one could hope for.
© John Bush /TiVo

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The Complete Commodore/Decca Masters

Billie Holiday

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1
Strange Fruit
Billie Holiday
00:03:11

Sonny White, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, Vocals, AssociatedPerformer - John Williams, Double Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Milt Gabler, Producer - Lewis Allan, ComposerLyricist - Tab Smith, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra, MainArtist - Frank Newton, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - Eddie Dougherty, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Stanley Payne, Tenor Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1939 UMG Recordings, Inc.

2
Yesterdays
Billie Holiday
00:03:24

Jerome Kern, Composer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - John Williams, Double Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Otto Harbach, Author - Milt Gabler, Producer - Tab Smith, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Frank Newton, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - Eddie Dougherty, Percussion, AssociatedPerformer - Jimmy McLin, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Stanley Payne, Tenor Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1939 UMG Recordings, Inc.

3
Fine And Mellow
Billie Holiday
00:03:16

Sonny White, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, Vocals, AssociatedPerformer, ComposerLyricist - John Williams, Double Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Milt Gabler, Producer - Tab Smith, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra, MainArtist - Frank Newton, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - Eddie Dougherty, Drums, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1939 UMG Recordings, Inc.

4
I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues (Take 2)
Billie Holiday
00:02:49

Sonny White, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - Harold Arlen, ComposerLyricist - Ted Koehler, ComposerLyricist - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - John Williams, Upright Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Milt Gabler, Producer - Ted Smith, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Frank Newton, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - Eddie Dougherty, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Kenneth Hollon, Tenor Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Jimmy McLin, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Stan Payne, Tenor Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1939 UMG Recordings, Inc.

5
How Am I To Know?
Billie Holiday
00:02:43

Dorothy Parker, ComposerLyricist - Sidney Catlett, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Vic Dickenson, Trombone, AssociatedPerformer - Doc Cheatham, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - Jack King, ComposerLyricist - Teddy Walters, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Lem Davis, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1944 UMG Recordings, Inc.

6
My Old Flame
Billie Holiday
00:03:02

Sidney Catlett, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Arthur Johnston, ComposerLyricist - Sam Coslow, ComposerLyricist - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Vic Dickenson, Trombone, AssociatedPerformer - Eddie Heywood, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - Doc Cheatham, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - John Simmons, Double Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Lem Davis, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1944 UMG Recordings, Inc.

7
I'll Get By (As Long As I Have You)
Billie Holiday
00:02:57

Sidney Catlett, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Roy Turk, ComposerLyricist - Fred E. Ahlert, ComposerLyricist - Vic Dickenson, Trombone, AssociatedPerformer - Eddie Heywood, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - Doc Cheatham, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - John Simmons, Double Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Teddy Walters, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Lem Davis, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1944 UMG Recordings, Inc.

8
I Cover The Waterfront
Billie Holiday
00:03:30

Sidney Catlett, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Edward Heyman, ComposerLyricist - Johnny Green, ComposerLyricist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Vic Dickenson, Trombone, AssociatedPerformer - Eddie Heywood, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - Doc Cheatham, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - John Simmons, Double Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Teddy Walters, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Lem Davis, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1944 UMG Recordings, Inc.

9
I'll Be Seeing You
Billie Holiday
00:03:30

Sidney Catlett, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Sammy Fain, Composer - Irving Kahal, Author - Milt Gabler, Producer - Vic Dickenson, Trombone, AssociatedPerformer - Eddie Heywood, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - Doc Cheatham, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - John Simmons, Double Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Teddy Walters, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Lem Davis, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1944 UMG Recordings, Inc.

10
I'm Yours
Billie Holiday
00:03:15

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - E.Y. HARBURG, ComposerLyricist - Milt Gabler, Producer - John W. Green, ComposerLyricist

℗ 1944 UMG Recordings, Inc.

11
Embraceable You
Billie Holiday
00:03:15

George Gershwin, Composer - Ira Gershwin, Author - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer

℗ 1944 UMG Recordings, Inc.

12
As Time Goes By
Billie Holiday
00:03:10

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Herman Hupfeld, ComposerLyricist - Milt Gabler, Producer

℗ 1944 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc., Mit freundlicher Genehmigung: Universal Music Group International

13
He's Funny That Way (1944 Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:15

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Neil Moret, ComposerLyricist - Richard A. Whiting, ComposerLyricist - Eddie Heywood, Recording Arranger, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1944 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

14
Lover, Come Back To Me
Billie Holiday
00:03:19

Sidney Catlett, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Oscar Hammerstein II , ComposerLyricist - Sigmund Romberg, ComposerLyricist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Eddie Heywood, Piano, Recording Arranger, AssociatedPerformer - John Simmons, Double Bass, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1944 UMG Recordings, Inc.

15
Billie's Blues
Billie Holiday
00:03:07

Billie Holiday, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Eddie Heywood, Recording Arranger, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1944 Geffen Records

16
On The Sunny Side Of The Street
Billie Holiday
00:03:01

Sidney Catlett, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Dorothy Fields, ComposerLyricist - Jimmy McHugh, ComposerLyricist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Eddie Heywood, Piano, Recording Arranger, AssociatedPerformer - John Simmons, Double Bass, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1944 UMG Recordings, Inc.

DISC 2

1
Lover Man (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:15

Billie Holiday, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Milt Gabler, Producer - Jimmy Sherman, ComposerLyricist - James Davis, ComposerLyricist - Roger J. "Ram" Ramirez, ComposerLyricist - Toots Camarata, Conductor

℗ 1945 UMG Recordings, Inc., Mit freundlicher Genehmigung: Universal Music Austria

2
No More (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:02:45

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Toots Camarata, Recording Arranger, AssociatedPerformer, ComposerLyricist - Toots Camarata & His Orchestra, Orchestra - Sidney Keith Bob Russell, ComposerLyricist

℗ 1946 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

3
That Ole Devil Called Love (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:02:52

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Allan Roberts, ComposerLyricist - Doris Fisher, ComposerLyricist - Tutti Camarata, Conductor

℗ 1945 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

4
Don't Explain (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:21

Billie Holiday, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - Arthur Herzog Jr., ComposerLyricist - Toots Camarata, Recording Arranger, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1946 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

5
You Better Go Now (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:02:29

Bix Reichner, ComposerLyricist - Irving Graham, ComposerLyricist - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Bob Haggart & His Orchestra, Orchestra

℗ 1946 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

6
What Is This Thing Called Love (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:09

Cole Porter, ComposerLyricist - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Bob Haggart & His Orchestra, Orchestra

℗ 1946 UMG Recordings, Inc.

7
Good Morning Heartache
Billie Holiday
00:03:05

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Ervin M. Drake, ComposerLyricist - Ervin Drake, ComposerLyricist - DAN FISHER, ComposerLyricist - Irene Higginbotham, ComposerLyricist

℗ 1946 Universal Records, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

8
No Good Man (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:04

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Sammy Gallop, ComposerLyricist - DAN FISHER, ComposerLyricist - Irene Higginbotham, ComposerLyricist - Bill Stegmeyer's Orchestra, Orchestra

℗ 1946 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

9
Big Stuff (Prologue / From "Fancy Free")
Billie Holiday
00:02:29

Leonard Bernstein, ComposerLyricist - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer

℗ 1946 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

10
Baby, I Don't Cry Over You
Billie Holiday
00:03:09

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Morton Krouse, ComposerLyricist

℗ 1991 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

11
I'll Look Around (Edit)
Billie Holiday
00:03:12

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - George Cory, ComposerLyricist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Douglas Cross, ComposerLyricist - George Douglas, ComposerLyricist - Cory Cross, ComposerLyricist

℗ 1991 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

12
The Blues Are Brewin' (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:01

Billie Holiday, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer - Eddie Delange, Author - Louis Alter, Composer - Bobby Tucker, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - Denzil Best, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - John Simmons, Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Bob Dorsey, Tenor Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Teddy Brannon, Recording Arranger, AssociatedPerformer - Lem Davis, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - John Simmons & His Orchestra, Musical Director, FeaturedArtist - Rostelle Reese, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1951 UMG Recordings, Inc.

13
Guilty
Billie Holiday
00:03:11

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Gus Kahn, Author - Harry Akst, Composer - Milt Gabler, Producer - Richard A. Whiting, Composer - John Simmons, Musical Director - John Simmons & His Orchestra, FeaturedArtist

℗ 1958 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

14
Deep Song (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:10

Douglass Cross, ComposerLyricist - George C. Cory Jr., ComposerLyricist - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Bob Haggart & His Orchestra, Orchestra

℗ 1947 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

15
There Is No Greater Love (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:02:57

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Marty Symes, Author - Isham Jones, Composer - Milt Gabler, Producer - Bob Haggart, Musical Director

℗ 1947 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

16
Easy Living (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:10

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Leo Robin, Author - Ralph Rainger, Composer - Milt Gabler, Producer - Bob Haggart & His Orchestra, Orchestra

℗ 1947 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

17
Solitude (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:07

Duke Ellington, Composer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Irving Mills, Author - Milt Gabler, Producer - Bob Haggart, Conductor - Eddie Delange, Author

℗ 1947 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

18
Weep No More (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:19

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Gordon Jenkins, ComposerLyricist - Tom Adair, ComposerLyricist - Tutti Camarata, Musical Director - The Stardusters, FeaturedArtist

℗ 1949 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

19
Girls Were Made To Take Care Of Boys (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:11

Mundell Lowe, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Ralph Blane, ComposerLyricist - Bob Haggart, Musical Director - Bobby Tucker, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - John Levy, Upright Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Denzil Best, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - The Stardusters, FeaturedArtist

℗ 1949 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

DISC 3

1
Porgy (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:02:54

George Gershwin, ComposerLyricist - Ira Gershwin, ComposerLyricist - Mundell Lowe, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Dubose Heyward, ComposerLyricist - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Bob Haggart, Musical Director - Bobby Tucker, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - John Levy, Upright Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Denzil Best, Drums, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1949 UMG Recordings, Inc.

2
My Man (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:02:55

Mundell Lowe, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Jacques Charles, ComposerLyricist - Maurice Yvain, ComposerLyricist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Bobby Tucker, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - John Levy, Upright Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Denzil Best, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Channing Pollock, ComposerLyricist - Albert Lucien Willemetz, ComposerLyricist

℗ 1949 UMG Recordings, Inc.

3
Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:18

George Duvivier, Upright Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Jimmy Nottingham, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - Mundell Lowe, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Milt Gabler, Producer - Rudy Powell, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Buster Harding, Unknown, Other - Porter Grainger, ComposerLyricist - George Dorsey, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Buck Clayton, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - George Matthews, Trombone, AssociatedPerformer - Everett Robbins, ComposerLyricist - Dickie Wells, Trombone, AssociatedPerformer - Horace Henderson, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - Shadow Wilson, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Emmett Berry, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - Sol Moore, Baritone Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1949 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

4
Baby Get Lost (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:13

Billy Moore, ComposerLyricist - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Buster Harding, Musical Director - Leonard Feather, ComposerLyricist - Buster Harding & His Orchestra, FeaturedArtist

℗ 1949 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

5
Keeps On A Rainin' (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:14

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Sy Oliver, Musical Director - Clarence Williams, ComposerLyricist - Sy Oliver & His Orchestra, FeaturedArtist - Max Korlander, ComposerLyricist

℗ 1950 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

6
Them There Eyes (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:02:49

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Sy Oliver, Recording Arranger, AssociatedPerformer - Milt Gabler, Producer - Maceo Pinkard, ComposerLyricist - DORIS TAUBER, ComposerLyricist - William Tracey, ComposerLyricist - Sy Oliver & His Orchestra, Orchestra

℗ 1950 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

7
Do Your Duty (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:14

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Sy Oliver, Musical Director - Wesley Sox Wilson, ComposerLyricist - Sy Oliver & His Orchestra, FeaturedArtist

℗ 1951 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

8
Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:02:42

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Sy Oliver, Recording Arranger, AssociatedPerformer - Wesley Sox Wilson, ComposerLyricist - Sy Oliver & His Orchestra, FeaturedArtist

℗ 1950 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

9
You Can't Lose A Broken Heart (Single Version)
Louis Armstrong
00:03:13

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Louis Armstrong, MainArtist - Sy Oliver, Recording Arranger, AssociatedPerformer - Milt Gabler, Producer - James P. Johnson, ComposerLyricist - Sy Oliver & His Orchestra, FeaturedArtist - Flourney E. Miller, ComposerLyricist

℗ 1949 UMG Recordings, Inc.

10
My Sweet Hunk O' Trash (Single Version)
Louis Armstrong
00:03:18

Everett Barksdale, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Louis Armstrong, MainArtist - Sy Oliver, Musical Director - Milt Gabler, Producer - James P. Johnson, ComposerLyricist - Sy Oliver & His Orchestra, FeaturedArtist - Flourney E. Miller, ComposerLyricist - Bernie Privin, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1949 UMG Recordings, Inc., Mit freundlicher Genehmigung: Universal Music Group International

11
Now Or Never (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:15

Everett Barksdale, Guitar, AssociatedPerformer - Johnny Mince, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Joe Benjamin, Bass, AssociatedPerformer - Billie Holiday, Vocals, MainArtist, AssociatedPerformer, ComposerLyricist - Sy Oliver, Conductor - Jimmy Crawford, Drums, AssociatedPerformer - Billy Kyle, Piano, AssociatedPerformer - Sy Oliver & His Orchestra, FeaturedArtist - Bernie Privin, Trumpet, AssociatedPerformer - Curtis Reginald Lewis, ComposerLyricist - Artie Drelinger, Tenor Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Sid Cooper, Alto Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer - Pat Nizza, Tenor Saxophone, AssociatedPerformer

℗ 1950 UMG Recordings, Inc.

12
You're My Thrill (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:22

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Gordon Jenkins, Conductor - Milt Gabler, Producer - Jay Gorney, Composer - Sidney Clare, Author

℗ 1949 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

13
Crazy He Calls Me (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:02

Bob Russell, ComposerLyricist - Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Carl Sigman, ComposerLyricist - Gordon Jenkins, Conductor - Milt Gabler, Producer

℗ 1949 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

14
Please Tell Me Now (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:03:13

Billie Holiday, MainArtist - Gordon Jenkins, Conductor - Toussaint L. Pope, ComposerLyricist - Arnold Clawson, ComposerLyricist

℗ 1950 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

15
Somebody's On My Mind (Single Version)
Billie Holiday
00:02:55

Billie Holiday, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - Arthur Herzog Jr., ComposerLyricist - Gordon Jenkins' Orchestra, FeaturedArtist - John Simmons, Musical Director

℗ 1950 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

Album Description

Although many of Billie Holiday's recordings for Commodore and Decca are often overlooked -- at least in comparison to the songs that bookend her career (for Columbia and Verve) -- they include some of her best work, beginning at the end of the '30s with "Strange Fruit" and stretching to the end of the '40s with "God Bless the Child." In 1939, Billie Holiday was a jazz sensation without a hit record. She gained that hit record, and began her journey to musical immortality, when her label Columbia refused to record "Strange Fruit," and jazz fan Milt Gabler welcomed her to his aficionado label, Commodore. Gabler recorded Holiday often over the next ten years, both at Commodore and through his work at Decca in the mid-to late '40s. While on Commodore, Holiday focused on downcast ballads, including "I Cover the Waterfront" and "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" (dubbed "loser" songs by Gabler), but she also excelled with warm and affectionate material too, "Embraceable You" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Regardless of the material, her backing consisted of small groups usually led by a pair of saloon-sound maestros: Doc Cheatham on trumpet and Eddie Heywood on piano. That sound was in for a switch when Holiday moved to Decca, however, beginning with another big hit, "Lover Man," a pop ballad with the full crossover treatment -- strings and all. (Gabler had no compunction about false notions of purity, and he happily recorded Holiday with strings and backing choruses whenever the song demanded it.) Even more than her work for Commodore, Holiday's work for Decca was melancholy and resigned in the extreme, with sterling treatments of yet more loser songs: "Don't Explain," "Good Morning Heartache," "You Better Go Now," and "What Is This Thing Called Love." Individually, the songs are excellent, and as a package, The Complete Commodore & Decca Masters can hardly be beat. It's a splendid accompaniment to similar sets devoted to Billie Holiday's Columbia and Verve output, and while completists will bemoan the lack of the many alternate takes -- most of the Commodore sides have two alternate takes for each master recording, available elsewhere -- this is all the war-years Billie Holiday one could hope for.
© John Bush /TiVo

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