Near the beginning of her interview on the DVD that accompanies her tribute album to the great Billie Holiday, To Lady with Love, Annie Ross tells the story about how she first met Lady Day when she was called upon to stand in for her at an Apollo Theater gig. She recalls her trepidation at filling in for a singer she had idolized since she was a teen, and recalls Holiday’s supportive reaction to her performance as she fell into the star’s arms when it was over. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted through the rest of Holiday’s life.
Ross is now in her eighth decade and understands that her own voice is no longer what it was when she became famous as a member of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Rather than looking to work with material from when Holiday was at the heights of her vocal powers, she chooses to honor Holiday by revisiting her 1958 sunset recording, Lady in Satin, a recording made when Holiday was reaching the end of her remarkable career. With the exception of a short intro and an original concluding piece, “Music Is Forever,” a kind of musical catalog of the greats who have passed on, as well as an additional song or two, the bulk of the album is devoted to covers of songs from the Holiday album.
Whether she is covering classic tunes like “For All We Know” and “You’ve Changed,” or less well-known pieces like “Violets for Your Furs,” there is a heartfelt emotional honesty in the drama of her vocal stylings that makes up for the vocal limitations of age.
Ross is a pro. She reminds me of Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” the aged warrior refusing to “rust unburnish’d,” setting out to do something great again before the inevitable end. Ross gives a heroic performance.
Annie Ross is accompanied brilliantly by the guitars of Bucky and John Pizzarelli.
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