Billie Holiday’s 1944 recording of “Embraceable You” is the one that sits in the Grammy Hall of Fame, revered as an example of a singer without peer at her absolute peak. And if you pushed us to recommend one album as an introduction to her incredible art, it would be the Complete Commodore Master Takes, which includes that version.
But to celebrate her centennial, we’re offering up the more relaxed version of “Embraceable You” she cut in 1957. It’s not that there’s a damn thing wrong with the 1944 recording, and we’re not romanticizing the toll hard living took on her voice, but there’s a maturity and daring in every note she chooses here that her legions of imitators have yet to approach. And then there’s the rest of the band. When Billie steps away from the mic you’ll be treated to a duel of soothing vs. stinging solos by two masters. First, Ben Webster, who ladles notes out of his saxophone like honey, then Harry “Sweets” Edison, who shoots them out of his trumpet like darts, each perfectly timed to hit you when you least expect them. So dim the lights, sit yourself between the speakers, settle in to Billie’s blues, and raise a glass.
Happy birthday, Lady Day.