To the Editor:
By and large, I agree with Terry Teachout’s assessment of Billie Holiday [“The Two Billie Holidays,” September]. She overcame many problems but sabotaged herself in other ways. I was surprised to learn that the jazz pianist Teddy Wilson was also a member of the Communist party—but one can like an artist’s music without liking his politics. With Wilson and with Lester Young, Billie Holiday made her best records. What made her singing memorable was that she sang slowly and savored the notes. Yes, her singing range was smaller than that of the average female singer, but within the octave her voice filled, she, better than anyone else, could find quarter tones and eighth tones in between the piano keys and subtly play around with them before sliding in on key. She was masterful at this. So masterful that I can’t listen to what she sang in the 1950s. By then, she had become a sad, raspy shadow of herself.
To the Editor:
I wish Terry Teachout would reconsider a line toward the end of his article about Billie Holiday: “But those who believe her later work to be superior to the recordings of her youth make the mistake of assuming that the unselfconscious simplicity of ‘I Must Have That Man’ was somehow less ‘mature’ than the inflated pseudo-profundity of ‘Strange Fruit.’” The profundity of “Strange Fruit” is so basic that it tricks many of us into thinking that it is, as Mr. Teachout says, “pseudo.” This song is actually so profound that it is a great song with or without Lady Day. Mr. Teachout did, however, perceptively note how Holiday tended to croon “lagging far behind the beat.”