Hal Willner & Billie Holiday (Solitude)

Hal Willner, New York City, 2007 – Photo – Bill Tompkins/Getty Images

Hal Willner died on Billie Holidays birthday – April 7 – It’s been a full year now. Man, do we miss him!  Our Fall of America Tribute CD  (multiple performers interpreting Allen’s poems) was released a couple of months back to make some humble attempt to honor his spirit and  memory and to salute his extraordinary genius.

To mark the strange (but fitting) conjunction of Hal Willner and Lady Day we thought to spotlight this – his production of the classic Billie Holiday song  “(In My) Solitude”, (originally recorded by Duke Ellington, with lyrics by Eddie DeLange & Irving Mills)

Billie’s version originally appeared in 1952 as the fourth song on her debut album  Billie Holiday Sings

Here‘s an earlier version from 1941 – and another from 1946
(Ella Fitzgerald in 1956 and Sarah Vaughan in  1964 – but Billie’s abides)

Circa 1995, Hal recorded a version of this all-time American standard for the Robert Altman film Kansas City.

& more than a decade later, he oversaw a recording by Marianne Faithfull

Steven Bernstein’s arrangement here is adapted from the earlier ones he created for the Altman soundtrack but it sounds custom-made for Marianne, whose idea it was to include the song on her 2008 album, Easy Come, Easy Go.

Marianne (on her recording of the song) :   “It’s always a big challenge to record a famous number like this, because it’s been done so well – what can you bring to it? But in a way, it’s very personal for me and I knew I could put it across…I remember I was a bit late getting to the studio that day but I had a coffee, walked into the vocal booth, and we did it in one take. Sometimes that really works with me, before I know the song too well…I think it’s beautiful. It makes me want to cry.”

Marianne and Hal – read more about Hal and Marianne’s connection on her website

More Hal and Billie Holiday conjunctions can be found (fleetingly) on this obscure corner –  (from the extraordinary 1980’s late-night tv series Night Music (for which Hal, pre SNL, was the inspired music director). Night Music #108 features the smorgasbord of Jack Bruce, Joe Walsh, Al Green, and a segment (spotlighted here) with Jools Holland and jazz critic Nat Hentoff introducing rare footage of Billie Holiday.

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