The Studio, July 23
Although Louis Armstrong invented jazz singing and Sarah Vaughan made it soar to dizzy heights, Billie Holiday remains the pinnacle if understatement, emotional directness and rhythmic nous are allowed to outweigh power and vocal gymnastics. In the centenary year of Holiday’s birth – she died in 1959 – Lady Cool and Amanda Easton gathered fellow singers Liza Ohlback, Dahlia Dior, Lucinda Peters, Lindsay Drummond and Joy Yates to each sing three songs by way of paying tribute to the woman known as Lady Day.
Unlike many of her peers (notably Ella Fitzgerald) Holiday had unfailingly good taste in material, so even when not getting airborne this was a night of wonderful songs, and thankfully no one tried to mimic her. In fact little of Holiday’s spirit was evident most of the time, Easton being primarily a pop stylist, Ohlback a blues belter, and Dior, Drummond and Cool more cabaret artists. All had their strengths (and weaknesses), ranging from Ohlback’s pile-driving power to Lady Cool’s goofy humour (including satirizing Abbott via reworked lyrics to All Of Me).
The overtly jazz aesthetic was left to Peters and Yates, the former refreshingly understated and bringing a supple sense of phrasing to What A Little Moonlight Can Do and Don’t Explain. Yates, meanwhile, speared us with the tip of Holiday’s potency on a stark reading of My Man, her voice cracking like a window looking on to the very soul of the song.
In a conceptual masterstroke snippets of an interview with Holiday were played between singers so we could absorb first-hand her humility and the sadness so deeply scarring her voice that it was there even when she joked.
The accompaniment from Sean Mackenzie (alas obliged to use a keyboard rather than a piano in music that demanded the latter), Tim Rollinson (guitar) John Maddox (bass) and Chris Fields (drums) was a little under-rehearsed and competent rather than inspired, with Rollinson producing some notably lyrical solos, including on Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.