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Behind the Beat(In My) Solitude by Billie Holiday
(In My)Solitude by Billie Holiday, Nine special recordings that stood out PBS: (In My) Solitude Album Cover
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(In My) Solitude

By Loren Schoenberg, Conductor and Saxophonist

Written by: E. K. Ellington, E. DeLange, I. Mills
Performed by: Billie Holiday with Eddie Heywood and His Orchestra: Roy Eldridge trumpet; Lester Boone, Jimmy Powell, alto saxophone; Ernie Powell, tenor saxophone; Eddie Heywood, piano; Paul Chapman, guitar; Grachan Moncur, bass; Herbert Cowans, drums; Billie Holiday, vocal
Recorded: May 9, 1941

Audio sample Solitude
Recorded May 9, 1941
(Courtesy Columbia/Legacy)

One thing we know about Duke Ellington is that he reveled in concocting varying stories about both his compositional methods and the programmatic nature of his compositions. Solitude was said to have been written in a Chicago studio minutes before a recording session. Whatever its provenance, what is ultimately significant about this plaintive melody is that it comes from a period when Ellington was composing at least one hit tune per year. The fact that his compositional style merged with popular culture is a testament to how things have changed in the intervening decades.

It was in the same year that Solitude was written - 1934 - that Billie Holiday had a major boost to her career. She was chosen to appear on screen singing the Lost My Man Blues in Ellington's short film Symphony In Black. It remains stunning evidence of how she looked as a healthy young woman and is a needed antidote at times to the more prevalent images of her in later years when she suffered the effects of drug addiction.

This is Holiday's first version of Solitude, and it was made in 1941 when she was poised for great commercial success. Holiday's 1930s recordings were relatively informal affairs, loaded with great solos and occasional counterpoint from pianist Teddy Wilson or her friend Lester Young. This one is more staid, enhanced by sustained backgrounds (with muted trumpet obbligato from Roy Eldridge) and, in this case, a piano solo by Eddie Heywood. The main attraction is naturally her voice, and throughout this slow, brooding performance the aura of Louis Armstrong's trumpet style hovers over Holiday's head. It is, to paraphrase Dan Morgenstern, pure Louis and purest Billie.