Accessibility links

Billie Holiday & Lester Young, 'A Musical Romance' - 2002-09-08

One of the most exciting teams in jazz featured singing sensation Billie Holiday and famed tenor saxophonist Lester Young. The pair first recorded together in 1937, a session that included the Irving Berlin composition This Year's Kisses. Other recordings followed, earning praise from critics and audiences who proclaimed the brief partnership a "musical romance." It was a landmark collaboration.

Call it being in the right place at the right time. Or was it just pure luck? Billie Holiday and Lester Young making their studio debut on January 25, 1937, with pianist and bandleader Teddy Wilson, clarinetist Benny Goodman, trumpeter Buck Clayton, guitarist Freddie Green and drummer Jo Jones. Holiday was only 22 and Young 27 on this easy-going rendition of This Year's Kisses.

Lester Young first learned to play alto saxophone in his native Mississippi. A fixture on the Kansas City jazz scene, Young was recruited by bandleader Fletcher Henderson to replace tenor sax great Coleman Hawkins. It was with the Count Basie Orchestra that Young became a star. His cool, relaxing tones balanced The Count's rhythmic swing. But even Basie was no match for Billie Holiday.

Also from 1937, Billie Holiday and her orchestra with Me Myself And I, featuring Lester Young on tenor saxophone.

Billie Holiday was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1915. Inspired by the recordings of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, Holiday began singing in obscure New York City nightclubs. Only a teenager when she sang with Benny Goodman on her first recording, Holiday went on to sing with jazz's greatest players, including Roy Eldridge, Johnny Hodges, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and, of course, Lester Young.

Billie Holiday in top form with Who Wants Love?, accompanied by Lester Young on tenor sax.

Billie Holiday and Lester Young will always be known for making beautiful music together, but they also made jazz history by giving each other their famous nicknames. Young was the first to call Holiday "Lady Day." In return, Holiday christened Young "The President" of the tenor sax, later shortened to "The Pres". Holiday and Young died four months apart in 1959.

Sixteen of Billie and Lester's finest collaborations appear on the new CD, Billie Holiday and Lester Young A Musical Romance. From it comes Fine And Mellow from the 1957 television broadcast The Sound Of Jazz, featuring Billie Holiday and the Mal Waldron All-Stars.