Friday, December 8, 2006

On December 8

On December 8, 1957, CBS aired The Sound of Jazz, whose highlight is Billie Holiday's performance of "Fine and Mellow." I'm happy to say that this performance can be found on YouTube. The version I've linked to below is the one with the best sound- and image-quality.

If you're not a jazz head, here is the sequence of soloists: Ben Webster (tenor), Lester Young (tenor), Vic Dickenson (trombone), Gerry Mulligan (baritone), Coleman Hawkins (tenor), and Roy Eldridge (trumpet). There's also a brief shot of Doc Cheatham playing a muted trumpet obbligato. The other musicians are Mal Waldron (piano), Danny Barker (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), and Osie Johnson (drums).

Whoever supervised the camera work understood the irrepressible interest we have in looking (no, make that staring) at faces. Watch Ben Webster's quick nod at 1:31 (he seems to be saying "Mmm, that note tasted good"). Watch Holiday's face as she listens to Lester Young, the great friend with whom she'd had a falling out (he had named "Lady Day" years earlier; she had named him "Pres"). And watch Gerry Mulligan's face as Coleman Hawkins solos.

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was murdered. Paul Simon wrote of that December 8 (and of the December 24, 1954 death of singer Johnny Ace) in "The Late Great Johnny Ace":

On a cold December evening
I was walking through the Christmastide
When a stranger came up and asked me
If I'd heard John Lennon had died
And the two of us went to this bar
And we stayed to close the place
And every song we played was for
The late great Johnny Ace, yeah, yeah, yeah
And that's what I know about December 8.
Billie Holiday, "Fine and Mellow" (YouTube, mislabeled as 1944)
John Lennon (official website)
Johnny Ace (Wikipedia)

comments: 3

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the BH link, great stuff. And I like your new photo, though it might get you a visit from social services nowadays.

Anonymous said...

Michael, that YouTube link SOUNDS fabulous - so many awesome musicians - I can't watch it, but I'm drooling just thinking about it. And I also lurve your new photo. But I liked the old one, too. :)

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Lee; thanks, Devra. My wife Elaine told me I should use that photo. If anything should ever happen to it (it's tiny, 7/8" x 2", clipped long ago from a larger photo), it's now online.

Devra, I hope you can see the Holiday clip -- it's just beautiful.