1954 sessions


Session #70 New York 14/April/1954 Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra (CD: The Complete BH on Verve vol.3 tk.2-4)
Charlie Shavers (tp) Oscar Peterson (p) Herb Ellis (g) Ray Brown (b) Ed Shaughnessy (d) Billie Holiday (v)

We notice immediately in the first solo from the first track that Shavers is back… Oscar Peterson would later comment that Billie should be drinking too much, because she was not in good shape in this session. Maybe, because of that, Norman Granz recorded only three tracks.

(MT 240) How Deep Is The Ocean? ** Billie opens this Irving Berlin’s standard backed by Shaver’s obbligati.

The image below is from the original Clef EP 45rpm disk. Click here to listen.

(MT 241) What A Little Moonlight Can Do – remake of one of the first Billie recordings from 1935 (see MT #4). Both tempi and lyrics don’t help. It was issued as the B side of previous track.

(MT 242) I Cried For You – another remake that I don’t appreciate. Shavers is over. Originally issued as LP – Clef CGC161.

Session #71 Los Angeles 03/September/1954 Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra (CD: The Complete BH on Verve vol.3 tk.2-4)
Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison (tp) Willie Smith (as) Bobby Tucker (p) Barney Kessel (g) Red Callender (b) Chico Hamilton (d) Billie Holiday (v)

Billie is back to Los Angeles, this time recording at the Capitol West Coast Studio. Contrary to the usual, there are no bridges and Billie sounds hoarse. In general, the funereal tempi don’t help and the songs are not from the best harvest in this long session.

(MT 243) Love Me Or Leave Me *** an exception in the session, this is a pleasant standard by Walter Donaldson, lyrics by Gus Kahn, that she had already recorded in 1941 (see MT #154). The obbligati by Edison and Smith are excellent. The track saves the session.

The image below is from the original 78rpm. Click here to listen.

Next three tracks were not issued as 78 rpm, but originally in Long Playing format.

(MT 244) P.S. I Love You * an standard by Gordon Jenkins, is rendered in a somewhat dragged tempo.

(MT 245) Softly

The image below is from the original Verve LP. Click here to listen (2nd & 3rd tracks).


(MT 245) Too Marvelous For Words * nice song by Richard Whiting in a swung tempo.

The image below is from the original Clef LP. Click here to listen (4th track).




Only Bobby Tucker’s piano

(MT 247) I Thought About You – this nice song by Van Heusen & Mercer could be done in a faster tempo, instead of almost a cappella.

Full band

(MT 248) Willow Weep For Me – a slow tempo song that do not rank among my favorites. However, Billie would include it frequently in her live presentations . Eight live recordings are known, although no one deserves special attention.

The image below is from the original 78rpm. Click here to listen.

(MT 249) Stormy Blues * in my opinion, blues isn’t positively the best gender for Billie, even being this song her composition. Edison’s obbligati worth the track.

The image below is from the original 78rpm. Click here to listen.

Note: This 78 rpm disk with Willow Weep For Me and Stormy Blues as sides A and B made history. The reason being it is the LAST disk printed in this format. The Long Playings will be the rule from now on.


Billie Holiday made her first European tour in January, 1954 as part of a Jazz Club USA group with Buddy De Franco quartet and Red Norvo trio, playing some 40 concerts in 30 days.  Leonard Feather was the organizer.

Complete European scheduling
Jan10 fly to Stockholm
Jan 11 Stockholm
Jan12 2nd  show in Stockholm
Jan13 Uppsala, Sweden
Jan14 Örebro, Sweden Paris
Jan15 Gothemburg, Sweden
Jan16 Oslo, Norway
Jan17 Marmö, Sweden
Jan18 Copenhagen, Denmark
Jan19 Hamburg, Germany
Jan20 Berlin, Germany
Jan21  Düsseldorf, Germany
Jan22 Cologne, Germany
Jan23 Amsterdam, Holland
Jan24 Brussels, Belgium
Jan25 Frankfurt, Germany
Jan26 US Army Camp, Germany
Jan27 Munich, Germany
Jan28 Stuttgart, Germany
Jan29 Nuremberg, Germany
Jan30 -rest-
Jan31 The Hague, Holland
Feb 1  Paris, France
Feb 2 Geneva, Swiss
Feb 3 Zurich, Swiss
Feb 4 Basel, Swiss (last show)
Feb 5 Mars Club in Paris
Feb 6 Ringside Club,
Feb 8 fly to London
Feb12 Free Trade Hall, Manchester
Feb13 Astoria Ballroom, Nottingham
Feb14 Royal Albert Hall, London
Feb19 fly back to NY


Live Session #38 [live recording] Cologne, Germany, 22/January/1954 Jazz Club USA (CD: Perfect Complete Collection vol.6)
Carl Drinkard Trio: Carl Drinkard (p) Jimmy Woode (b) Peter Littman (d) Billie Holiday (v)
(LR 107) Bilie’s Blues (I Love My Man)
(LR 108) What A Little Moonlight Can Do
Jam Session Group: Buddy DeFranco (cl) Red Norvo (vb) Beryl Booker (p) Red Mitchell (b) Elaine Leighton (d) Billie Holiday (v)
(LR 109) Lover Come Back To Me

Track unissued in vinyl.

54-01-22_0394_koln 54-01-22_0396_koln Billie in Cologne

Live Session #39 [live recording] Bruxelles, Belgium, 24/January/1954 Jazz Club USA (CD: Perfect Complete Collection vol.7)
Carl Drinkard Trio: Carl Drinkard (p) Red Mitchell (b) Elaine Leighton (d) Billie Holiday (v)
(LR 110) He’s Funny That Way
(LR 111) All Of Me
(LR 112) My Man *
(LR 113) Them There Eyes  
(LR 114) Don’t Explain *
(LR 115) I Cried For You 
(LR 116) Fine And Mellow
(LR 117) What a Little Moonlight Can Do

Tracks unissued in vinyl.

  • An unusual “black all-girl band”, the Beryl Booker Trio was formed by Bonnie Wetzel, bass; Elaine Leighton, drums and Beryl Booker, piano. The two latter took part in this Jazz Club USA

Live session #40 [live recording] Basilea, Swiss 04/February/1954 Jazz Club USA (CD: Perfect Complete Collection vol.6 & Complete BH on Verve vol.2 & Billie’s Blues)
Mustermesse, Basilea, Swiss two jam sessions, with extended recording time, historical tracks.
Carl Drinkard Trio: Carl Drinkard (p) Red Mitchell (b) Elaine Leighton (d) Billie Holiday (v)
(LR 118) Blue Moon
(LR 119) All Of Me *
(LR 120) My Man *
(LR 121) Them There Eyes
(LR 122) I Cried For You
(LR 123) What A Little Moonlight Can Do
(LR 124) I Cover The Waterfront

Original LP United Artists UAJ 14014 A Lady Love (US 1962). Click here to listen.

Buddy DeFranco (cl) Red Norvo (vb) Beryl Booker & Sonny Clark (p) Jimmy Raney (g) Red Mitchell (b) Elaine Leighton (d) Billie Holiday (v)
(LR 125) Billie’s Blues (11’39″) *** from the very beginning, we notice that we are on an exciting environment, with the piano in staccato, the clarinet in obbligato and special swing. In the bridge, the solo by DeFranco – a bit too long – is followed by Red Norvo, introducing the vibraphone in Billie’s recordings; in the sequence, Jimmy Raney, Sonny Clark – the best – and Mitchell complete the band’s round. Billie comes back for the final chorus. Excellent, unforgettable.
(LR 126) Lover Come Back To Me (6’46″) ** this jam session, in a faster tempo than the preceding track, gives more room for the band to improvise. Billie slows the tempo in the final chorus after a band’s break.

Original LP United Artists UAJ 14014 B Lady Love (US 1962). Click here to listen.

Live Session #41 [live recording] Europe, January/February/1954 Jazz Club USA (CD: Perfect Complete Collection vol.7)
Carl Drinkard Trio: Carl Drinkard (p) Red Mitchell (b) Elaine Leighton (d) Billie Holiday (v)

These tracks are considered to be recorded during the tour, at unknown locations. (tracks #133 and #134 possibly in Paris).

(LR 127) Nice Work If You Can Get It *
(LR 128) Willow Weep For Me *
(LR 129) I Only Have Eyes For You  
(LR 130) God Bless The Child  
(LR 131) Please Don’t Talk About Me  
(LR 132) Billie’s Blues (I Love My Man)
(LR 133) All Of Me  

Tracks unissued in vinyl.

(LR 134) Willow Weep For Me

Original LP Cambra CR 139 Fine And Mellow (UK 1984). Sound not available.

Live Session at Royal Albert Hall, London 14/February/1954
Billie sings 15 songs accompanied by Carl Drinkard and trio. Unfortunately, the tracks were not recorded.

Live Session #41A [live recording] Boston, 07/March/1954 Carl Drinkard Trio (CD:Billie Holiday Banned From NYC, vol.2)
Carl Drinkard (p) Jimmy Woode (b) Marquis Foster (d) Billie Holiday (v)
(LR 134A) Blue Moon
(LR 134B) All Of Me *
(LR 134C) Tenderly *
(LR 134D) Them There Eyes
(LR 134E) Willow Weeps For Me

Previously unissued in vinyl.

Live Session #42 [live recording] New York, 25/September/1954 Count Basie Orchestra (CD:Perfect Complete Collection vol.7)
W.Culley, R.Jones, Thad Jones, Joe Newman(t) H.Coker, B.Hughes, B.Powell(tb) M.Royal(as/cl) E.Wilkins(as/ts) F. Wess(ts/fl) F.Foster(ts) C.Fowlkes(bs) Freddie Green(g) Memry Midget(p) Eddie Jones(b) Gus Johnson(d) Billie Holiday(v)

Recording session at the JATP at Carnegie Hall with the Birdland All-Stars. Sarah Vaughan also took part.

(LR 135) All Of Me *
(LR 136) Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do
(LR 137) Lover Come Back To Me
(LR 138) My Man
(LR 139) Them There Eyes
(LR 140) Lover Man

Original LP Roulette RE-127 Birdland All Stars At Carnegie Hall (US 1975). Sound not available.

  • Charlie Parker (1920-1955) was a famous saxophonist and composer, nicknamed “Bird”. The famous New York nightclub Birdland, temple of so many jazz performers, founded in 1949, was named after him.

© www.billieholidaysongs.com February 2018

7 thoughts on “1954 sessions

  1. Pingback: P.S. I Love You | Songbook

  2. I am the daughter of Elaine Leighton.
    I have many photos and personal stories my mother recounted from the 1954 tour.Sadly, my mother passed in 2012 and had spent her last years in assisted living to help manage Alzheimer’s/ dementia.
    My mother had stopped playing 40 years prior but the entertainment director gave her the opportunity to play the drums again at the facility. At 80 years of age I saw my mother once again take her place at a drum set and not only did she play as though she had never stopped but I saw a light in her eyes that reflected her true spirit of a musician come to life once more. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
    The soul of a musician is forever.

    • Dear Joanne, thank you for sharing your memories. All I know about your mother is that she played in Europe with Carl Drinkard, Buddy DeFranco and of course Billie Holiday. Among my favorites are “Billie’s Blues” and “Lover, Come Back to Me”. Ah, and I also know that she formed a famous trio with Beryl Booker. I would appreciate if could send me some pictures. My personal email is prnovaes@gmail.com

    • One of my good friend went with his father to bring a birthday cake ordered for one of the musicians during the 1954 European Tour at Basel…Billie Holiday asked who was this little boy of 11 and then gave him a kiss…Do someone eventually has a picture??? The cake had a microphone on it…With all best thanks for your help. My email address is tortux68@hotmail.com

    • Have you photographs from your mother and Billie Holiday at their concert 1954 in Baumholder, Germany? The day was january 26.

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