AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
April 7th marks the centennial celebration of the incomparable Billie Holiday. Her genius remains the foundation for jazz vocalists and her legacy reigns supreme.
The Swing Song Tradition
By the early 1930's, the Jazz Age was coming to an end. The 2/4, oomp-pah rhythm of the 1920's was giving way to the smoother, more elastic rhythm of the Swing Era. Benny Goodman officially got the ball rolling at the Palomar; but the Jazz Age Orchestra had left a musical question unanswered. Something was missing, and that something, would be addressed by a jazz enthusiast, turned record executive, along with a Texas-born pianist and a young, unknown singer from Baltimore.
The emergence of the Swing Era big band was not immune to the dire economic challenges of the Great Depression; and there was also a remaining artistic dilemma. The singer's participation within a jazz music presentation left much to be desired. In fact, the jazz vocalist was non-existent. John Hammond, A&R man (artist and repertoire) for Brunswick Records, was given the task of devising records for a market which saw a diminishing ability to sustain the high cost of recording big bands. Also recognized was the inability of pop singers of the day, to swing with the band. He addressed the problem: How do you incorporate a singer into a jazz context and how, within the realm of big band popularity, make it economically feasible?
Enter Teddy Wilson. Wilson, a consummate pianist, educated at Tuskegee Institute and Talladega College, was approached by Hammond with the challenge. The two collaborated and their solution was brilliant; treat the singer's voice equally, as one of the jazz instrumentalists and place them all into a big-sounding, small scale ensemble. A recording date was scheduled for July 2, 1935 and the outcome was pure gold. Teddy Wilson (p), Benny Goodman (cl), Roy Eldridge (tr), John Trueheart (g), John Kirby (b), Cozy Cole (d)........... and Billie Holiday, (vocal). The Swing Song Tradition was born, and with it came the emergence of the jazz vocalist, and for Billie, unparalleled recognition and stardom. Her delivery epitomizes the Swing Era concept and her expression of lyric leads some to argue her supremacy will remain forever intact. One note: for many, the name Billie Holiday, conjures thoughts of a woman whose man done her wrong and a depressive sadness for love lost. To those, I can only let the music speak for itself. The joy Billie expresses in the Swing Song Tradition recordings allow us all to share in a happiness and joie d' vivre which only she can express.
Join in the Billie Holiday Centennial Celebration on WKCR.org. Billie's entire discography (1933-1959) will be aired during jazz-specific programming during the week of April 7th-April 10th, BUT, continuous Billie will be heard on April 7th & 8th.
Happy 100th Birthday Billie!