Lady Day’s Journey

Nat Hentoff reviews Julia Blackburn’s book in the Wilson Quarterly:

Billie_holiday_smallNo other jazz singer could get inside lyrics as evocatively as Billie Holiday. “Billie must have come from another world,” trumpet player Roy Eldridge once said, “because nobody had the effect on people she had. I’ve seen her make them cry and make them happy.” Even the famously demanding Miles Davis sang her praises: “She doesn’t need any horns. She sounds like one anyway.”

Lady Day—as tenor saxophonist Lester Young nicknamed her (he often dubbed a female musician “Lady”)—has been the subject of several books and an inauthentic movie (Lady Sings the Blues), but the life that became the music has never been so deeply revealed as it is in With Billie, a collection of more than 150 interviews with musicians, junkies, lovers, narcotics agents, relatives, and a decidedly heterogeneous group of friends. Linda Kuehl conducted many of the interviews in the 1970s, for a biography she didn’t live to complete. Now, Julia Blackburn, a novelist and biographer, has assembled and edited the transcripts, producing a portrait that’s both panoramic and intimate.

More here.