Billie Holiday – How Do the Early Pressings Sound?

More Billie Holiday

More Titles that Sound Best in Mono

I expected our amazing sounding original seen below to win the shootout, but it didn’t!

Also, the reprocessed fake stereo copy shown here is to be avoided at all costs.

It sounds as bad as any fake stereo record I can remember playing. What were they thinking?

Naturally, the highest quality vocal reproduction has to be the main focus on a Hot Stamper pressing for any Billie Holiday record we would offer. Her voice should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and present.

In addition to being tonally correct and natural, the pressings we offer must also be highly resolving. With the right room and the right equipment, properly set-up and adjusted of course, you will hear everything that these vintage recordings have to offer, including the three-dimensional space of the studios in which the various sessions were recorded, under the auspices of Norman Granz.

The Sound of the Original

The original Trumpet Player Verve mono we had on hand to play suffered from an EQ problem we run into frequently in our shootouts for vintage vocal albums. Actually, to be clear, there were two main problems in the case of All or Nothing At All: a boosted midrange and occasional sibilance issues.

Ella Fitzgerald’s albums often suffer from these same two problems. It’s a trick to find the copies that are tonally correct in the midrange and do not have the kind of cutter head distortions that result in excessive sibilance.

Old and New Work Well Together

This reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s. We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 40 years ago, not the dubious modern mastering of today.

The combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on these four superb sides.

We were impressed with the fact that these pressings excel in so many areas of reproduction. What was odd about it — odd to most audiophiles but not necessarily to us — was just how rich and Tubey Magical the reissue can be — on the right pressing.

Mono Vs. Fake Stereo

The mono remastering — on the right pressings, obviously — can be superb. We found out to our chagrin that this particular double album had been cut by a number of different mastering houses, with wildly varying results. In a way we were lucky; had we heard the bad ones early on we would never have been motivated to buy more of them and get this shootout going.

We got hold of a good one right from the start and the result of that luck and later effort is this very copy.

The Sessions

Tracks A1 to A6: Recorded in Los Angeles, August 23-25, 1955 
Tracks B1 to C2: Recorded in New York, June 6-7, 1956 
Tracks C3 to D1: Recorded in Los Angeles, August 14, 1956 
Tracks D2 to D5: Recorded in Los Angeles, August 18, 1956

The Players

Bass – Joe Mondragon (tracks: C3 to D5)
Bass – John Simmons (tracks: A1 to A6) 
Clarinet – Tony Scott (tracks: B1 to C2) 
Drums – Alvin Stoller (tracks: C3 to D5)
Drums – Larry Bunker (tracks: A1 to A6)
Drums – Lenny McBrowne (tracks: B1 to C2) 
Guitar – Barney Kessel (tracks: A1 to A6 and C3 to D5)
Guitar – Kenny Burrell (tracks: B1 to C2) 
Piano – Jimmy Rowles (tracks: A1 to A6 and C3 to D5)
Piano – Wynton Kelly (tracks: B1 to C2) 
Saxophone – Ben Webster (tracks: C3 to D5)
Saxophone – Benny Carter (tracks: A1 to A6)
Saxophone – Paul Quinichette (tracks: B1 to C2) 
Trumpet – Charlie Shavers (tracks: B1 to C2)
Trumpet – Harry Edison (tracks: A1 to A6) 

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.


Side One

A Fine Romance
Isn’t This A Lovely Day
Everything I Have Is Yours
What’s New
I Get A Kick Out Of You
I Hadn’t Anyone Till You

Side Two

Trav’lin’ Light
I Must Have That Man
Some Other Spring
Strange Fruit
No Good Man
Lady Sings The Blues

Side Three

God Bless The Child
Good Morning Heartache
Cheek To Cheek (From the original album)
Ill Wind (From the original album)
Speak Low (From the original album)

Side Four

Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me (From the original album)
Sophisticated Lady (From the original album)
All Or Nothing At All (From the original album)
April In Paris (From the original album)
We’ll Be Together Again (From the original album)

AMG Review

… features some of Billie Holiday’s top Verve performances from the mid-’50s… she runs the emotional gamut from summery optimism to pathos-rich musings. Befitting her perennial after-hours mood while at the label, the majority of songs here feature Holiday in a low-down mood of the highest order.

The supporting cast isn’t bad either, what with the likes of Harry Eddison, Barney Kessel, Ben Webster, and Jimmy Rowles tagging along. A gem.

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