Prez and Lady Day
Fine and Mellow

Watching the series Worricker, I was amazed to see at the beginning of the first episode a reference with archival footage of Billie Holiday singing "Fine and Mellow".

The character of Johnny Worricker, a secret agent played by actor Bill Nighy says:
"You see? It's almost unbearable, the way she looks. She's so desperately in love with Lester Young she can scarcely bear it when he plays..."

This description of Billie's love could simply be the writer's interpretation, but it got me inspired to do a little research. I found the clip referenced in the show and also found this fascinating story:

"Billie insisted their relationship was strictly platonic. She gave Lester the nickname "Prez" after President Franklin Roosevelt, the "greatest man around" in Billie's mind. Lester in turn gave Billie her famous nickname, "Lady Day."

When Billie was asked to explain her style of singing, she said, "I don't think I'm singing. I feel like I'm playing a horn. I try to improvise like Les Young, like Louis Armstrong or someone else I admire. What comes out is what I feel. I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know."

About Lester Young, Billie said, "For my money, Lester was the world's greatest. I loved his music; my favorite recordings are the ones I made with Lester. Lester sings with his horn. You listen to him and you can almost hear the words.

Lester Young and Billie Holiday were both unusually sensitive souls, easily hurt by the hard knocks of the music business and the blatant racism of America in the 1930s. To ease the pain, they both found solace in drugs and liquor.

Lady Day once talked about her life on the road with Artie Shaw: "Most of the cats in the band were wonderful to me, but I got tired of scenes in crummy roadside restaurants over getting served. Some places wouldn't even let me eat in the kitchen. I got tired of having to make a Federal case over breakfast, lunch and dinner. You had to smile to keep from throwing up. As they say, 'There's no business like show business.'""

These are excerpts. I'm tempted to copy the entire text here, but it's so worth it to read the original writing with the images :)

I also give appreciation to the filmmakers, the videographers, light and sound engineers, the editors, capturing the emotions, the concentration in their faces, the trance, the subtle communications between the artists, giving us this spiritual treasure to experience today, like hearing ghosts in heaven.
CBS TV show The Sound of Jazz
YouTube user StephanieCozy / Stanford Libraries - The Jim Cullum Riverwalk Jazz Collection / 1957 CBS TV show The Sound of Jazz. Courtesy NY Public Library
This item is shared by Sarah Poyet with the Community and the World.
Created on 2018-09-27 at 01:34 and last updated on 2018-09-27 at 17:01.