From the Record Shelves #138

A Sailboat in the Moonlight

LP Columbia CL 637

This LP was my introduction to Billie Holiday. My big sister got it for Christmas. She woke up with a big neck pain on Christmas Day and had to stay in bed. So we listened to this over and over again. I found a copy of my own in New Orleans many years later. It was good to begin with this because even if Billie was at the threshold of her career she is very good and fit’s so well into the small swing groups that most often are assembled by pianist Teddy Wilson.

It’s hard to choose a tune on a record with plenty of instrumental contributions from musicians like Wilson, Benny Goodman, Ben Webster, Bunny Berigan, Johnny Hodges and Edmond Hall. But I have taken the one where Billie and Lester Young on tenor sax gives a musical illustration of being in a sailboat in the moonlight together. Lester plays with care and tenderness behind the vocal and his short solo tells you that here is a man you want to listen to. He finishes like many does with a phrase from Louis Armstrong, but there is much to learn from small details in his playing and with his personal sound and style he is never mistaken for another.

To play trumpet with a singer often means that you have to work in a high key and Buck Clayton had the chops to do that convincingly.

The piano playing with a finely phrased solo is in this session done by Jimmy Sherman (who also recorded with Mildred Bailey and Lil Armstrong at the time).

The safe rhythm section from Count Basie’s Orchestra is behind all this with Freddie Green, guitar, Walter Page, bass and Jo Jones on drums.

From the notes on the sleeve I learn that it was at a session for Paul Whiteman in 1945, that produced Travelin’ Light, that Billie Holiday got her nickname. A pseudonym was needed for contractual reasons and the recording director came up with “Lady Day”.