The Story Is Told
Lester and Billie
Fine And Mellow
There is a video in which Billie Holiday sings Fine and Mellow. It was originally telecast by CBS in The Seven Lively Arts: The Sound of Jazz, on Sunday afternoon, December 8, 1957.
In the session, Lester Young wasn't expected to deliver a solo, that's how poor his health was (he was advised to just sit in on the session). But you can see how he suddenly stepped forward and took the second saxophone solo. It is said that Billie probably knew this was the last time they'd ever work together, and that her face says a multitude of things during this rare moment.
The band on this occasion included Ben Webster (tenor saxophone), Lester Young (tenor saxophone), Vic Dickenson (trombone), Gerry Mulligan (baritone saxophone), Coleman Hawkins (tenor saxophon), Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Doc Cheatham (trumpet), Danny Barker (guitar), Milt Hinton (double bass), Mal Waldron (piano) and, Osie Johnson (drums). It was a reunion with Billie, with whom Lester had lost contact over the years. She was also near the end of her career, but they both gave moving performances.
Lester's solo has been considered by many jazz musicians 'an unparalleled marvel of economy, phrasing and extraordinarily moving emotion'. but he seemed ill, and was seated except for his solo during the performance."
"Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard, and [he and Holiday] were looking at each other, their eyes were sort of interlocked, and she was sort of nodding and half-smiling. It was as if they were both remembering what had been - whatever that was. And in the control room we were all crying. When the show was over, they went their separate ways."- jazz critic Nat Hentoff.
Within two years, both Lester and Billie had died.
The songblog website says: ".... The performance proved Billie Holiday to still be one of the best singers this world had seen so far and showcased (for the last time) her abilities to sing the blues, expressing both joy and suffering at the same time, something that is rarely seen even among the best. The solos by each of the musicians are so emotional and creative and combined with Billie’s voice make this performance a true musical treat for all jazz lovers and music enthusiasts."
You can watch the video here.