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.
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.
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.