Monday, January 4, 2010
Billie HOLIDAY - Last Recording 1959
Last Recording, her final session recorded just four months before her death. I spoke to Danny yesterday about the session, and he helped resolve a few questions I've always had about the date.
Billie's Last Recording is particularly painful to hear. So much so that many of my friends find it unlistenable. And in many ways they're right. Billie sounds frighteningly fragile—much more so than on Lady in Satin, which was recorded a year earlier. You almost feel ashamed to be listening to it given her near-death condition.
Yet Last Recording remains an essential document. Because anything recorded by Billie is important. And because her voice, while shattered after years of abuse, still tries to overcome the physical limitations of her body and winds up taking on a strange, gaunt, autumnal beauty.
In addition, the arrangements by Ray Ellis (who also led the shimmering Lady in Satin date) are fairly strong. The musicians assembled were all major players, and trumpeter "Sweets" Edison seems to be blowing especially strong to shoulder Billie along.
Danny Bank, who occupied one of the nine chairs on the third day of the recording session in March 1959, shed light on the agonizing date:
"Her last album was recorded over three days [March 3, 4 and 11 in in 1959.] The first two dates were done with horns and strings. I wasn't on those. On the last date Ray [Ellis] used just a small band.
I remember getting a call from Romeo Penque a day before the [March 11] session. Penque was a great musician. He could do it all—he played alto, tenor, clarinet, you name it. Penque was on the first two dates in March and was scheduled to do the third. But he was one of those guys that if another date paid $10 more, he’d go take it even though he was booked for the first one.
So I told Penque I'd take the session. Billie was one of my heroes. I had always heard stories about her. I admired her for Strange Fruit. That was a bold social statement at the time. Very courageous.
When I walked into the studio, I think it was in the morning, there she was. But Billie was so sick. She had no balance. They had to put a belt on her to hold her upright in the stool she sat on to record. I don’t know why she recorded that day.
Maybe because the session was already booked and she needed the money.
By Danny Bank.
I bought this LP when it first came out, right after Lady died. At first I didn't "get it," and the fact that she sounded awful dominated my reaction to it. As I matured, however, it became one of my favorite of Lady's recordings.
While I hear all the pain and physical deterioration, I must strongly disagree that "Last Recording" is not essential Lady Day. Indeed, I think it is one of her most personal documents, and far more emotionally involved than Lady In Satin.
I had the opportunity to hear Al Cohn at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase not long before he died, Gerry Mulligan on a jazz cruise in what may have been his last public performance, Coleman Hawkins on WTTW a few days before he passed, and Gene Ammons at the Jazz Showcase in his last days. These artists were all in pain, knew they hadn't long to live, but poured every element of their being into those performances, and they were magnificent. I hear that in Lady on this session, and it is damned essential.
By Jim Brown.
Joe Benjamin- Bass (tracks: B2-B5) ,
Milt Hinton- Bass (tracks: A1-A6, B1, B6)
Osie Johnson- Drums
Barry Galbraith- Guitar (tracks: A2-A4, B1) ,
Kenny Burrell- Guitar (tracks: B2-B5)
Janet Putnam- Harp (tracks: A2-A4, B1-B5)
Hank Jones- Piano
Gene Quill- Alto Sax (tracks: A2-A4, B1)
Al Cohn- Tenor Sax (tracks: A1, A5, A6, B6) ,
Danny Bank- Tenor Sax (tracks: A1, A5, A6, B6) ,
Romeo Penque- Tenor Sax (tracks: B2-B5)
Billy Byers- Trombone (tracks: A1, A5, A6, B6) ,
Jimmy Cleveland- Trombone (tracks: A2-A4, B1-B5)
Harry Edison- Trumpet (tracks: A1-A6, B1, B6) ,
Joe Wilder- Trumpet (tracks: A1, A5, A6, B6)
Vocals - Billie Holiday
A1. All Of You
A2. Sometimes I'm Happy
A3. You Took Advantage Of Me
A4. When It's Sleepy Time Down South
A5. There'll Be Some Changes
A6. 'Deed I Do
B1. Don't Worry' Bout Me
B2. All The Way
B3. Just One More Change
B4. It's Not For Me To Say
B5. I'll Never Smile Again
B6. Baby Won't You Please Come Home