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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1957 | Verve

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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1956 | Clef Records

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Vocal Jazz - Released April 3, 2015 | Columbia - Legacy

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Vocal Jazz - Released September 29, 1992 | Verve Reissues

This is a rather incredible collection: ten CDs enclosed in a tight black box that includes every one of the recordings Verve owns of Billie Holiday, not only the many studio recordings of 1952-57 (which feature Lady Day joined by such jazz all-stars as trumpeters Charlie Shavers and Harry "Sweets" Edison, altoist Benny Carter, and the tenors of Flip Phillips, Paul Quinichette and Ben Webster). Also included are prime performances at Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts in 1945-1947, an enjoyable European gig from 1954, her "comeback" Carnegie Hall concert of 1956, Holiday's rather sad final studio album from 1959, and even lengthy tapes from two informal rehearsals. It's a perfect purchase for the true Billie Holiday fanatic. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Vocal Jazz - Released November 6, 2009 | Verve Reissues

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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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1956 | Clef Records

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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1956 | Clef Records

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Vocal Jazz - Released August 12, 1994 | Verve Reissues

Billie Holiday is predominant among jazz singers. Frank Sinatra said of her, "She was and remains my biggest influence." Sinatra points to the way Holiday could make a song her own. Her dusky, smoky voice conveys more about love and heartache in one syllable than most other singers in any genre will convey in a lifetime. This album is a collection of recordings from the '50s for the Verve and Clef labels. It's a late-night dream for the nights you can't sleep, thinkin' about the love that got away. Holiday is accompanied by some of the music's best players: Ben Webster (king of the big, breathy tenor sax tone), Benny Carter (alto sax), and Jimmy Rowles (one of the most graceful pianists ever). Her take on "Body and Soul" could melt the hardest heart, and imagine yourself at the end of your figurative rope with "Ill Wind." (The latter has great blues-shaded guitar by Barney Kessel, who himself was an influence on rock guitarist Pete Townsend.) A fine introduction to Holiday's twilight years. © TiVo
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Vocal Jazz - Released March 3, 1958 | Verve

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Vocal Jazz - Released June 1, 1958 | Columbia - Legacy

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Vocal Jazz - Released November 13, 2020 | Verve

The soundtrack to the 2020 Billie Holiday documentary, Billie brings together a nice cross-section of the legendary singer's output from her early work in the 1930s to just before her death in the 1950s. The music correlates nicely with the director James Erskine's film, which works to illuminate Holiday's groundbreaking career, as well as her troubled personal life. Included on the soundtrack are a handful of what are largely considered Holiday's most important recordings. Chief among them is her landmark 1939 recording of "Strange Fruit," a haunting protest ballad against the lynching of black people that many believe helped to ignite the Civil Rights Movement. Also featured are a handful of her other classic studio recordings, including 1939's "Fine and Mellow," 1950's "God Bless the Child" with the Gordon Jenkins vocal group, and her live 1956 performance of "Don't Explain" captured at Carnegie Hall. We also get her swinging 1949 take on "Now or Never" with Sy Oliver & His Orchestra and her shimmering 1959 rendition of "I'll Never Smile Again" with Ray Ellis & His Orchestra. Included alongside these original recordings are a handful of contemporary instrumentals performed in a period-appropriate swing jazz style by the Sonhouse Allstars for incidental inclusion in the documentary. As a souvenir of the film, Billie works quite well. That said, one could quibble with some of the choices, such as picking the 1950 Jenkins arrangement of "God Bless the Child" over her original 1941 version, which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1976. Nonetheless, in terms of sheer listenability and as a documentation of her career arc, Billie is a fine introduction to Holiday's work. © Matt Collar /TiVo
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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1961 | Verve

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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1957 | Verve

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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1958 | Verve Reissues

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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1958 | Verve Reissues

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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1991 | Verve Reissues

Billie Holiday is heard at her absolute best on this attractive two-CD set. During her period on Decca, Lady Day was accompanied by strings (for the first time), large studio orchestras, and even background vocalists, so jazz solos from her sidemen are few. But her voice was at its strongest during the 1940s (even with her personal problems) and to hear all 50 of her Decca performances (including alternate takes and even some studio chatter) is a real joy. Among the high points of this essential set are her original versions of "Lover Man" (Holiday's biggest selling record), "Don't Explain," "Good Morning Heartache," "'Tain't Nobody's Business if I Do," "Now or Never," "Crazy He Calls Me," and remakes of "Them There Eyes" and "God Bless the Child." © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1957 | Verve Reissues

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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1955 | Verve Reissues

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Vocal Jazz - Released October 26, 2010 | Columbia - Legacy

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Vocal Jazz - Released January 1, 1956 | Verve Reissues