Billie Holiday, Lady in Satin (vinyl)

Modern jazz culture is funny. Almost cute, really.

I recently found Lady in Satin on re-issued 180 gram vinyl, and even though I hadn’t heard it (and had further heard it wasn’t her best work), I really wanted to get some Billie Holiday to hear on the ol’ turntable. She’s the only jazz singer I listen to: there’s hundreds of saxophonists, dozens of trumpeters and pianists, two bass players– and one singer.

She’s the only singer who doesn’t seem to screw up the music’s mood with vocal histrionics. She just slides along with it, adding here and there, not trying to overpower it or be an obvious (read: obnoxious) star performer.

The last studio album released in her (short) lifetime, Lady in Satin is widely called “sad,” or “tragic” or something synonymous, as her voice (at age 43, after decades of physical, sexual, and drug abuse) had deteriorated.

Now, while it has noticeably gotten more raspy, craggy, and the range has gotten limited (and was never that huge to begin with, not that that means jack shit), if anything it’s more expressive and fascinating that previously.

It’s nothing as harsh as Tom Waits’ voice, or Paolo Conte’s, or Gil Scott-Heron’s…. I don’t see (hear) what the big deal is. Fucking jazz pussies. The voice, as an instrument, doesn’t have to hit 14,000 notes to work– two or three will work with an obvious experience behind them.

Sorry Berklee grads, your schooling won’t mean shit in the long term. Live a life that comes through your work. That’s obvious in your work. Who gives a rat’s ass if you can play from memory the Aeolian modes of F#? Your professors. That. Is. It.

Are modern jazz listeners (those who basically listen exclusively to jazz I mean) really that insulated from other forms of music? Christ, Holiday is Pavarotti next to any metal singer (minus a few like Halford or Dickinson). Her warm, slow rasp is (while the reasons for its degeneration are sad) even more interesting than are her earlier recordings. The music, the orchestration, is pretty bland, but the “degenerated” voice over it nullifies all that. You’re not listening for the backing sounds, anyway.

The vinyl itself sounds full and thick, as is vinyl’s wont. Plus, don’t you just love that smell, that petroleum smell, when you’re flipping over the record and it wafts toward you? That’s great. Reminds me of being very young.

Upon some basic internet research, I came to find that this album was allegedly one of her personal favorites. I’m not really surprised, though it does make me feel better about buying it. I feel closer to her, somehow, however improbably.

Thank you, Eleanora. Thanks for singing until you couldn’t.

Fuck modern jazz listeners– I dig that rasp, baby. You keep entertaining Trane and Pres up in heaven until I get there to listen.

check it out

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