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BILLIE HOLIDAY (part two)

Please read in conjunction with BILLIE HOLIDAY PART ONE on this website.

This is part of a projected follow-up book to ‘Within You, Without You’ which has since been abandoned. It seemed a shame to waste all the research, so I hope you will find something of interest in it.

1936-37: Billie Holiday made her recording debut at the age of 21 in 1936 as Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra of Bunny Berigan, trumpet; Artie Shaw, clarinet; Joe Bushkin, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Pete Peterson, bass; Cozy Cole, drums. Clarinetist Irving Fazola and pianist Clyde Hart also accompanied her in those early days.

By 1937 the whole band had changed apart from the drummer with Ben Webster, tenor sax; Edgar Sampson, clarinet, alto sax; Jonah Jones, trumpet; Teddy Wilson, piano; Alan Reuss, guitar and John Kirby, bass. It always seems to me these early jazz bands were like revolving doors as, by April, the band had changed membership again with only the bass player and piano player remaining and Eddie Tompkins, trumpet; Buster Bailey, clarinet; Joe Thomas, tenor sax; Carmen Mastren, guitar, and Alphonse Steele, drums coming in.

By June, 1937 it was a whole new ball game and this is where Lester Young (tenor sax) comes in with Buck Clayton, trumpet; Edmond Hall, clarinet; James Sherman, piano; Freddie Green, guitar; Walter Page, bass and Jo Jones, drums completing the new line-up. By September Buster Bailey was on clarinet with Claude Thornhill, piano, replacing Hall and Sherman but at least the line-up is stabilizing. Over the period 1936 to 1937 Billie has already recorded classic versions of Summertime, A Fine Romance, I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm and Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off as well as Billie’s Blues on Vocalion and Columbia records.

1938-1939: Billie entered 1938 with some more changes, no clarinet, Benny Morton on trombone, Teddy Wilson returning on piano. By May, the doors have revolved again with a line-up of Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Buster Bailey, clarinet; Babe Russin, tenor sax; Claude Thornhill, piano; and unknown guitarist thought to be Danny Barker, perhaps Allan Reuss; John Kirby, bass and Cozy Cole, drums. This remained stable until September when the Clayton/ Young/ Green/ Page and Jones line-up returned with Dicky Wells on trombone and Margaret ‘Queenie’ Johnson on piano. Through 1939 musicians like Hot Lips Page, trumpet Tab Smith, soprano and alto sax; tenor sax players Kenneth Hollon and Stanley Payne; pianist Kenny Kersey; guitarist Jimmy McLin; John Williams, bass and Eddie Dougherty, drums came and went.

At a recording session in New York City on 20th April, 1939 one of Billie’s most iconic recordings, and certainly her most controversial, Strange Fruit was first recorded for Commodore Records: sax player; bass, guitar and drums as immediately above with Sonny White on piano and Frank Newton on trumpet. By the end of the year there were changes again with Buck Clayton and Harry Edison, trumpet; Eddie Warren, alto sax; Jack Washington, alto and soprano sax; Lester Young, tenor sax; Freddie Green, guitar; the lead players and the hitherto rhythm section of Walter Page and Jo Jones re-established. The 1938 and 1939 recording sessions produced fine versions of tunes like Fine and Mellow, Yesterdays, The Man I Love and Night and Day.

1940-1944: It will not surprise the reader to know that, by the end of February, 1940, a different’ orchestra’ with lots of new names had appeared: Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Carl Frye, Jimmy Powell, alto sax; Kermit Scott, tenor sax; Sonny White, piano; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; John Williams, bass, and Hal West, drums. By June, Roy Eldridge’s brother Joe had joined him on as the alto sax part of the brass section along with Bill Bowen; the lynchpins of Young, Wilson, Green and Page are still there, but Jones as presumably unavailable, so J. C. Heard stepped in on drums.

By September, 1940 the alto saxes have become Georgie Auld and Don Redman; the tenor saxes Don Byas and Jimmy Hamilton, with only pianist Teddy Wilson remaining and John Collins, guitar; Al Hall on bass and drummer Kenny Clarke all coming in. Trumpeter Roy Eldridge remained. A big change happens in October when the band’s name becomes Billie Holiday with Benny Carter and His All-Star Orchestra: Bill Coleman, trumpet; Benny Morton, trombone; Benny Carter, alto sax, clarinet; Georgie Auld, tenor sax; Sonny White, piano; Ulysses Livingston, guitar; Wilson Myers, bass; and Yank Porter, drums.

By March, 1941 it was Billie Holiday with Eddie Heywood and his Orchestra: Lester Young, tenor sax; Shad Collins, trumpet; Eddie Barefield, Leslie Johnakins, alto sax; Eddie Heywood, piano; John Collins, guitar; Ted Sturgis, bass, and Kenny Clarke, drums. By 9th May, 1941 it was just plain Billie Holiday and it is with this band: Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Lester Boone, Jimmy Powell, alto sax; Ernie Powell, tenor sax; Eddie Heywood, piano; Paul Chapman, guitar; Grachan Moncur, bass; and Herbert Cowans, drums that Billie recorded one of her most famous and iconic numbers, God Bless the Child as well as Solitude.

By August, 1941 Billie was back to sharing the billing with Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra. Of course, Teddy had been her pianist and John Williams and J. C. Heard, Wilson’s rhythm section, were both known to her, joined by Emmett Berry, trumpet; Jimmy Hamilton, clarinet; Hymie Schertzer, alto sax; Babe Russin, tenor sax; and Albert Casey, guitar. It was this band that recorded I Cover the Waterfront for Columbia. This arrangement continued into 1942 with Gene Fields for Casey on guitar, songs like It’s A Sin to Tell A Lie coming out of this period.

After a hiatus due to a strike by the American Federation of Musicians and shortage of shellac due to oil rationing during the Second World War, Billie was back with Eddie Heywood and His Orchestra with a line- up of ‘Doc’ Cheatham, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Lem Davis, alto sax; Eddie Heywood, piano; Teddy Walters, guitar; John Simmons, bass, and ‘Big Sid’ Catlett, drums with another version of I Cover the Waterfront. On April Fool’s Day, 1944 notable songs like I’ll Be Seeing You and As Time Goes By were recorded for Commodore Records. A week later Billie also recorded songs like I Love My Man (AKA Billie’s Blues) and On the Sunny Side of the Street with Eddie Heywood’s piano, bass and drums trio. By October/ November, 1944 it was the turn of the Toots Camarata Orchestra, Billie transiting from a trio to a 12-piece band, with an entirely different line-up conducted by Camarata. That Ole Devil Called Love (Decca) comes from this period.

1945 - 1949: In August, Billie returned to the studio with a big band with a 5-piece brass section and a string sextet (5 violins and a viola). In 1946 she fronted alto sax player and conductor Bill Stegmeyer’s Orchestra, with a 5-piece brass section and a string quartet. By March she was back in the studio with a smaller band of Joe Guy, trumpet; Joe Springer, piano; Tiny Grimes, guitar; Billy Taylor, bass and Kelly Martin, drums. The following month she was fronting pianist Billy Kyle and His Trio, a misnomer as the piano/ bass/ drums were supplemented by trumpet and guitar. Two days after Christmas Day a 6-piece orchestra conducted by bassist John Simmons, with Billie as the vocalist were recorded for Decca. In 1947 another bassist/ conductor Bob Haggart provided a brass heavy 10 piece for Billie and an alternative version of Solitude was recorded at these sessions. Into 1948 and pianist Bobby Rucker and is trio (actually a quartet counting the guitar) recorded (among others) Weep No More and Porgy with Billie at the helm. In August, 1948 conductor Buster Harding and His Orchestra do the honours. This is a big band of fifteen counting Billie with a brass section of ten including Lester Young. They recorded Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do and the frank and to the point Baby Get Lost. Radio and TV appearances follow under her own name, then in August, 1949 Billie teams up with conductor Sy Oliver and His Orchestra with an eleven-piece brass section. She records with them again in September and later that month records with Louis Armstrong, Sy Oliver conducting his orchestra once again. In October Gordon Jenkins conducts a more pastoral sounding orchestra with only five brass instruments including two clarinets and a flute.

1950 onwards: Billie was back recording under her own name again on 8th March, 1950 with a six-piece band conducted by Gordon Jenkins. During this session in Los Angeles, God Bless the Child was recorded for Decca. In 1951 she was backed by guitarist Tiny Grimes and his Sextet. On 29th October she fronted her own band at the Storyville Club in Boston with Stan Getz, tenor sax; Al Haig, piano; Jimmy Raney, guitar; Teddy Kotick, bass; and Tiny Kahn, drums. Among the numbers recorded were You’re Driving Me Crazy and Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do. She is back at the end of October with a different band, a trio, and Miss Brown To You is recorded. In 1952 Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra lay down songs like East of the Sun, Blue Moon, These Foolish Things and I Only Have Eyes for You with Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Flip Phillips, tenor sax; Oscar Peterson, piano; Barney Kessel, guitar; Ray Brown, bass, and Alvin Stoller, drums to appear a Mercury album to be released Billie Holiday Sings. With J.C. Heard on drums she recorded songs like Tenderly Love for Sale and Autumn in New York In Los Angeles in April, 1952.

It was the summer of 1952 and more songs like Stormy Weather, Lover Come Back To Me and Yesterdays were recorded for an album to be released on the Cleft label. Billie is backed by Oscar Peterson, piano, organ; Paul Quinichette, tenor sax; Joe Newman, trumpet; Freddie Green, guitar; Ray Brown, bass, and Gus Johnson, drums. Radio and TV Broadcasts were done before Billie returned to the studio on 14th April, 1954 with Oscar Peterson, piano; Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; and Ed Shaughnessy, drums. It was back to L.A. on 3rd September to record with Harry Edison, trumpet; Willie Smith, alto sax; Bobby Tucker, piano; Barney Kessel, guitar; Red Callender, bass, and Chico Hamilton, drums. Songs included Too Marvellous for Words and Willow Weep for Me and others that would appear on The Lady Sings The Blues album on Clef/ Verve.

In 1955, Billie turned 40 and returned to the New York studio to record songs like I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, I Wished on the Moon and Always. She did a broadcast from Carnegie Hall on 6th May, 1955 with a stellar line-up of Lester Young, tenor sax; Count Basie, organ; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Bobby Tucker, piano; Eddie Jones, bass, and Buddy Rich, drums. It was back to L.A. for two days in August with her ‘Orchestra’ of Harry Edison, trumpet; Benny Carter, alto, tenor sax; Jimmy Rowles, piano, celeste; Barney Kessel, guitar; John Simmons, bass, and Larry Bunker, drums to record numbers like Gone with the Wind, Come Rain or Come Shine, I Get A Kick Out of You, A Fine Romance and Nice Work if you Can Get It. Clarinetist Tony Scott’s Orchestra with Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Paul Quinichette, tenor sax; Wynton Kelly, piano; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Aaron Bell, bass, and Lenny McBrowne, drums backed Billie on ‘evergreens’ like Trav’lin Light, Lady Sings the Blues, Strange Fruit and God Bless the Child in a New York recording session in the summer of 1956 and Billy and ‘Her Orchestra’ headed for L.A. once again in August to record songs like Cheek to Cheek, All or Nothing At All and April in Paris. Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax; Carl Drinkard, piano; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Carson Smith, bass;,and Chico Hamilton, drums were back at the Carnegie Hall on 10th November, 1956 to record a classic set.

1957 was an intensive year of recording for Billie with her Orchestra of Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, trumpet; Ben Webster, tenor sax; Jimmy Rowles, piano; Barney Kessel, guitar; Red Mitchell, bass, and Alvin Stoller, drums. Among the songs recorded for Verve at Capitol Tower in Los Angeles in sessions between 3rd and 7th January, are I Wished on the Moon, Moonlight in Vermont, Body and Soul. On 8th January Joe Mondragon and Larry Bunker replaced the rhythm section and more songs were recorded like Stars Fell on Alabama and Say It Isn’t So. Mitchell was back on bass on the 9th to help record songs like Embraceable You, They Can’t Take That Away from Me, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off. The album Body and Soul came out of these sessions. On the evening of 6th July, 1957 Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra (actually a trio!) of Mal Waldron, piano; Joe Benjamin, bass and Jo Jones, drums played at the Newport Jazz Festival, songs like Nice Work if You Can Get It being recorded for a Verve album Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday at Newport.

On February 18th to 21st February Billie began recording the first of two albums with Ray Ellis and His Orchestra. Sadly,these would be her last. This was, in every sense of the word, an orchestra, having numerous brass instrument, strings, woodwinds, harp, percussion and backing singers as well as Mal Waldron, piano; Barry Galbraith, guitar; Milt Hinton, bas,; and Osie Johnson, drums. The tracks laid down in these sessions were intended for a Columbia album that would be called Lady in Satin. On 5th October, a six-piece band including Mal Waldron and Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax played at the Monterey Jazz festival, later released as Billie Holiday- At Monterey/ 1958 on Blackhawk Records.

On 3rd and 4th March, 1959 Billie Holiday reconvened with arranger/ conductor Ray Ellis and his Orchestra of Jimmy Cleveland, trombone; Romeo Penque, alto, tenor sax, bass clarinet; Janet Putnam, harp; Hank Jones, piano, celeste; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Joe Benjamin, bass, and Osie Johnson, drums with a string quartet. The sessions continued on 11th March with a largely different line-up of Harry Edison and Joe Wilder, trumpet; Billy Byers, trombone; Al Cohn, tenor sax; Danny Bank, baritone sax; Hank Jones, piano; Barry Galbraith, guitar; Milt Hinton, bass; and Osie Johnson, drums. The resulting album was Billie Holiday with Ray Ellis and his Orchestra.

NEXT TIME – SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY

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