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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

"How Deep Is the Ocean"- Billie Holiday

In the previous post I shared the wonderful version by Ella Fitzgerald. Here is Lady Day's performance:


My 1st reaction was being appalled.
At the moment I'm slightly confused, but it now appears to me that perhaps Billie Holiday's rendition isn't meant to be what I thought it wasn't. Let's talk again about "Love Me or Leave Me"- the lyrics being almost the same (except for an extra stanza at the beginning of Billie Holiday's version), Billie Holiday and Nina Simone perform it differently and ultimately say different things. The former, by singing it slowly and with agony and "dragging" some notes, focuses on the torment of uncertainty; the latter, with that bravado and quick tempo, instead asserts her sense of self, her independence, and refuses to accept the man's behaviour and the indefiniteness of their relationship, in a sense similar to Doris Day's "Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps".
Now let's talk about "Lover, Come Back to Me":


The words are "Lover, come back to me", but she doesn't sound like she means it at all. Jazz, we know, is a performer's art rather than a composer's art- as a singer Billie Holiday cannot change the lyrics, but within the constraint she's free to choose the way to sing it, and sings it playfully, ironically rather than seriously, sincerely, sadly. In spirit it's more like "Baby, I Don't Cry Over You", also by Billie Holiday. That undermines the sadness and longing in the lyrics. Instead, she's playing with it, mocking it.
Go back to "How Deep Is the Ocean". Sung by Ella Fitzgerald, it's a beautiful, romantic love song. Like anyone can fall in love with Lady Ella. Hear how her voice flies, or flows, with the music. When Billie sings it, however, she sings with that kind of abruptness and lack of deep feeling that sounds like questioning and at the same time makes all the comparisons seem like a laundry list, and thus the whole song becomes shallow, commonplace, banal. 

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