Café Mouffe Encore: Billie Holiday

Set 1: Billie Holiday. Fine and Mellow.

After Sphere linked us ever so tangentially on the subject of Oscar Peterson, I heard a reprise of a 2005 interview with Nat Hentoff on American Routes. Hentoff described himself as a jazz chronicler, not a critic. He told the story behind this legendary recording session with Billie Holiday. He co-produced it in 1958 for CBS’ Sound of Jazz series. “It was like walking into the Pantheon for me,” Hentoff remembered. He was watching from the engineer’s booth as one of the great moments of jazz history unfolded. Billie made eye contact with Lester Young as he crafted his poignant solo for her, and a kind of musical reconciliation passed between them. There wasn’t a dry eye left after that. Billie thanked Hentoff with a kiss after the gig, and that meant more to him than any award he’d ever receive in his six-decade career as jazz chronicler.

For the record, other musicians in this Pantheon include Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Roy Eldridge, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton, and Mal Waldron.

Set 2: Billie Holiday. Good Morning, Heartache is a montage of vintage B&W photos of Lady Day. Summertime is a video montage juxtaposing contemporary footage of “a hot August day in South Beach” with Billie’s rendition of Gershwin’s classic tune. There’s a hot trad jazz band backing her up. I bet they constitute a Pantheon, too.

Set 3: Billie Holiday. Strange Fruit. Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is one of the finest song settings ever made of an American poem. Lewis Allan (Abel Meeropol) wrote the haunting verse. Never mind a little video distortion — this is a rare historic performance. Let it stand as my tribute to Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 21.

Café Mouffe opens every Friday at 3:00 p.m. Please drop by for a listen and a chat. Sometimes the embedded videos don’t work here due to bandwidth constraints, but you’ll always find links to video sources in the set notes. Try them. If you’re curious about the Mouffe, here’s the original idea behind it’s creation.

This entry was posted in Café Mouffe, jazz, Playing by Ear and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Café Mouffe Encore: Billie Holiday

  1. Mark Willis says:

    The lyrics (as sung by Billie Holiday)

    Strange Fruit – Lewis Allan

    Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
    Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
    Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
    Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

    Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
    The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
    Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
    Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

    Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
    For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
    For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
    Here is a strange and bitter crop.

  2. Mark Willis says:

    See DAVID MARGOLIK’s essay on “Strange Fruit” published in Vanity Fair, September 1998:

Comments are closed.