Billie Holiday lived long enough to make a handful of television appearances in the late 1950s. She was no longer at her best, but these performances show her passion for the music she sang … and the bond she shared with musicians she admired.
There is a wonderful rendition of “I give up dear” Led by the underrated guitarist Mary Osborne on YouTube from a show called 1958 Jazz party. Despite the kinescope’s questionable quality, the music vibrates and nobody enjoys it more than Holiday, who is revealed halfway through the song on a stool right next to Osborne. First she nods in time to the up-tempo choir that Osborne is playing. then you can actually see her face come to life. Music can do that.
Billie’s most famous appearance was on a CBS network special called The sound of jazz Jazz critic Nat Hentoff helped put together the all-star program and had to use all her persuasiveness to bring out the sick holiday. Her friend Lester Young, whom she called “Prez”, was just as fragile but attended a memorable rendition of Billie’s song “Fine and Mellow” which she introduced on CD in 1939. (The downside was “Strange Fruit”.)
Gerry Mulligan and Ben Webster play solo choirs. Then, in Hentoff’s words, “Lester got up and played the purest blues I’ve ever heard, and [he and Holiday] They looked at each other, their eyes kind of crossed, and she nodded and half smiled. It was like they both remembered what had been – whatever that was. And in the control room we all cried. When the show was over, they went their separate ways. “
No histrionic or melodrama can match the deep sense of music we see in these all-too-brief performances. Thank goodness someone dedicated these live performances to the film.
The other musicians of the date are Vic Dickenson on trombone, Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax, Roy Eldridge on trumpet, Doc Cheatham on trumpet, Danny Barker on guitar, Milt Hinton on bass, Mal Waldron on piano and Osie Johnson on piano drums .