Some people think I’m some sort of tough guy; but I tell you, I’m a real ol’ softie. Lots of things make me weep – for instance, this 1957 film of Billie Holiday singing with Lester (‘Pres’) Young on tenor sax. Billie and Pres had been very, very close both musically and personally in the late 1930’s: it was virtually a love affair. But by the time this film was made, they’d drifted apart and hadn’t seen each other for some years. On this film, we can hear that Billie’s voice is still wonderful, but ravaged, and Pres staggers out (in an alcohol and/or marijuana haze) from the “all star” band (including Ben Webster, who precedes him on tenor, and Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax), to play a beautifully constructed, but slightly out-of-tune solo. Within a couple of years both Pres and Billie would be dead.
When Pres takes his solo, you can see Billie smiling, shaking her head, and nodding: it’s clearly – at least in part – encouragement, as Pres struggles through his solo; but I believe it’s also an expression of her regret over their lost love, and their failure to consumate it . But whatever: it’s clearly love, in the purest form: