Stories » Lara Downes celebrates Billie Holiday on new Steinway & Sons release / AXS review

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Lara Downes celebrates Billie Holiday on new Steinway & Sons release / AXS review

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Classical pianist Lara Downes pays tribute to jazz vocalist Billie Holiday on the 100th anniversary of her birth by performing 22 songs Holiday made famous throughout her career in the 1930s and 1940s. A Billie Holiday Songbook (Steinway & Sons, 30026) is Downes' solo piano centenary tribute that boldly re-imagines such songs as "God Bless The Child," "Strange Fruit," and "Good Morning Heartache," "Lover Man," and "But Beautiful." All but two of Downes' versions were arranged by composer/pianist Jed Distler; "Blue Moon" was arranged by Teddy Wilson (with whom Holiday often worked) and "Willow Weep For Me," was arranged by Marian McPartland.

The program opens with "Yesterdays" the gem written by Jerome Kern that was often featured in many of Billie Holiday's concerts. "God Bless The Child" follows with specific pianistic characteristics reminiscent of Thelonious Monk's while "Blue Moon," has that spunky ragtime, stride feeling of Fats Waller. While Lara Downes' readings of "Hush Now, Don't Explain," "Good Morning Heartache," and "Strange Fruit," are moody and pensive, true Billie Holiday fans will miss the absence of Holiday's emotional vocals as she sang their lyrics. When Holiday sang the lyrics to these songs, she made them masterpieces.

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