Record Collector (magazine) - p.905 stars out of 5
-- "[The collection] focuses on what was arguably the most fertile period in Lady Day's career, between the years 1939-50."
Personnel: Billie Holiday (vocals); Louis Armstrong (vocals); Johnny Blowers (guitar, drums); Everett Barksdale, Daniel Perry, Teddy Walters, Jimmy Shirley, Tiny Grimes, Tony Mottola, Toots Camarata, Mundell Lowe, Bob Bain, Jimmy McLin, Carl Kress (guitar); Leo Kruczek, Charles Jaffe, Frank Siefiels, George Serloff, Morris Lefkowitz, David Friscina (violin); Armand Kaproff, Maurice Perlmutter (viola); Kurt Reher (cello); Bill Stegmeyer (strings, clarinet, alto saxophone); Gordon Jenkins & His Orchestra (strings); John Fulton (flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone); Dick "Dent" Eckles (flute, tenor saxophone); Milt Yaner (clarinet, alto saxophone); Eddie Barefield (clarinet, baritone saxophone); Lem Davis, Jack Cressey, Johnny Mince, Sid Cooper, Tab Smith, Nuncio "Toots" Mondello, Al Klink, Rudy Powell, George Dorsey, Hymie Schertzer (alto saxophone); Paul Ricci, Stanley Payne, Larry Binyon, Bob Dorsey, Freddie Williams , Pat Nizza, Kenneth Hollon, Armand Camgros, Bernard Kaufman, Lester Young , Art Drellinger, Budd Johnson (tenor saxophone); Sol Moore, Stan Webb (baritone saxophone); Tony Faso, Doc Cheatham, Emmett Berry, Frankie Newton, Gordon Griffith, Rostelle Reese, Joe Guy, Russ Case, Shad Collins, Billy Butterfield, Jimmy Nottingham, Bobby Hackett, Dick Vance, Bernie Privin, Buck Clayton (trumpet); George Stevenson , Henderson Chambers, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, George Matthews (trombone); Eddie Heywood, Joe Springer , Horace Henderson, Sammy Benskin, Sonny White, Bernie Leighton, Billy Kyle , Bobby Tucker, Charlie LaVere (piano); Cozy Cole, Denzil Best, Eddie Dougherty, George Wettling, Kelly Martin, Jimmy Crawford , Kenny Clarke, Nick Fatool, Shadow Wilson, Big Sid Catlett, Specs Powell, Wallace Bishop (drums); Gordon Jenkins Singers (background vocals).
Liner Note Author: Ashley Kahn.
Recording information: Hollywood, CA (04/20/1939-03/08/1950); New York, NY (04/20/1939-03/08/1950).
Directors: Gordon Jenkins & His Orchestra; John Simmons ; Sy Oliver; Toots Camarata; Bill Stegmeyer; Bob Haggart; Buster Harding.
Photographers: Charles Peterson; Charles Peterson .
Arrangers: Eddie Heywood; Gordon Jenkins & His Orchestra; Sy Oliver; Toots Camarata; Bob Haggart.
Although many of Billie Holiday's recordings for Commodore and Decca are often overlooked -- at least in comparison to the songs that bookend her career (for Columbia and Verve) -- they include some of her best work, beginning at the end of the '30s with "Strange Fruit" and stretching to the end of the '40s with "God Bless the Child." In 1939, Billie Holiday was a jazz sensation without a hit record. She gained that hit record, and began her journey to musical immortality, when her label Columbia refused to record "Strange Fruit," and jazz fan Milt Gabler welcomed her to his aficionado label, Commodore. Gabler recorded Holiday often over the next ten years, both at Commodore and through his work at Decca in the mid-to late '40s. While on Commodore, Holiday focused on downcast ballads, including "I Cover the Waterfront" and "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" (dubbed "loser" songs by Gabler), but she also excelled with warm and affectionate material too, "Embraceable You" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Regardless of the material, her backing consisted of small groups usually led by a pair of saloon-sound maestros: Doc Cheatham on trumpet and Eddie Heywood on piano. That sound was in for a switch when Holiday moved to Decca, however, beginning with another big hit, "Lover Man," a pop ballad with the full crossover treatment -- strings and all. (Gabler had no compunction about false notions of purity, and he happily recorded Holiday with strings and backing choruses whenever the song demanded it.) Even more than her work for Commodore, Holiday's work for Decca was melancholy and resigned in the extreme, with sterling treatments of yet more loser songs: "Don't Explain," "Good Morning Heartache," "You Better Go Now," and "What Is This Thing Called Love." Individually, the songs are excellent, and as a package, The Complete Commodore & Decca Masters can hardly be beat. It's a splendid accompaniment to similar sets devoted to Billie Holiday's Columbia and Verve output, and while completists will bemoan the lack of the many alternate takes -- most of the Commodore sides have two alternate takes for each master recording, available elsewhere -- this is all the war-years Billie Holiday one could hope for. ~ John Bush