With Billie Julia Blackburn Pantheon Press 2005 ISBN: 0-375-40610-7 354 pages
The story behind this portrait of Billie Holiday is a compelling and tragic one. More than 30 years ago, a woman named Linda Kuehl set out to write a biography of Holiday. She conducted over 150 interviews with friends and acquaintances of the singer, but despite years of toil and frustration, she was unable to complete a publishable book. In 1979, after leaving a Count Basie concert in Washington, DC, Kuehl committed suicide by jumping out a hotel window.
Years later, author Julia Blackburn was given access to Kuehl's tapes and notes and used them as the main source for this intriguing new look at Billie Holiday. The result is more than a simple retelling of what is already one of the best known and most bittersweet lives in jazz.
It's a literary documentary that artfully weaves together reminiscences by dozens of those who knew her to provide an intimate picture of Holiday the artist as well as Holiday the person.
What's most refreshing and revealing here is that alongside anecdotes from musicians like Jimmy Rowles, Bobby Tucker and Melba Liston are remembrances by a motley collection of people outside the jazz world - childhood friends from Baltimore, neighbors from New York, fellow junkies, even a police officer who arrested Holiday on a narcotics rap in 1947.
It's their recollections of this brave and determined, if deeply troubled, woman that make this book such a valuable contribution to the Billie Holiday literature. It's a shame that Linda Kuehl is not around to see that all her hard work finally paid off.
The first jazz record I bought was Bill Evans' Sunday at the Village Vanguard. When I was in high school, I somehow stumbled
across the track My Man's Gone Now and was instantly transfixed. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. So I saved up
(times were hard for a teenager back then) and went out and bought the album.
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