This is a song not on­ly per­formed but writ­ten by Bil­lie Hol­i­day; it was a hit in 1939, the flip side of the beau­ti­ful but grue­some Strange Fruit (the fruit was a lynch­ing vic­tim). Fine and Mel­low is sad too, but a fair­ly stan­dard man-treats-me-bad blues. It’s a treat for the ears and the heart.

Billie Holiday

You can’t write about Bil­lie with­out dip­ping in­to cliché: Vic­tim­ized as a black and as a wom­an, drank her­self to death, end­less sad­ness in that sto­ry. I’m ac­tu­al­ly not a devo­tee, quite a bit of her mu­sic goes by me. But oth­er­s, like this one, grab hard and don’t let go. The big thing I like about Fine and Mel­low is its pa­tience, flow­ing calm­ly along from verse to cho­rus to verse, no hur­ry to get there; be­cause the blues aren’t go­ing away.

Love is just like a faucet/It turns off and on/Some times when you think it's on, baby/It has turned off and gone.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. Now, there are a lot of ver­sions out there and I’m sure many will dis­agree with my choice, which is off A Mu­si­cal Ro­mance, fea­tur­ing Lester Young and the Mal Wal­dron All­stars, who­ev­er they were: on Ama­zon, Spo­ti­fy, and iTunes.

Now for live video, there’s a fa­mous one and it’s amaz­ing: Bil­lie and a re­al all-star band (Hawkin­s, Web­ster, Young, Mul­li­gan) in 1957, in a CBS stu­dio with de­cent sound and sol­id camera-work; the pic­ture above is a screen cap. Sit back, mel­low your­self out, and have a se­ri­ous lis­ten. It goes on for 9 min­utes and you don’t want to miss a sec­ond. All the so­los are pret­ty cos­mic, like for ex­am­ple the open­ing one-two punch from Ben Web­ster and Lester Young, and then there’s Bil­lie in be­tween them. I re­mem­ber an in­ter­view I read with one old jazzbo, him say­ing “If you were play­ing with Bil­lie and weren’t to­geth­er, that meant you were off the beat be­cause she nev­er was.” Watch her pick up her part­s; no cues I can hear un­til she comes in and then you no­tice it was per­fec­t.

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights

February 17, 2018
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