Veteran tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton’s new album Remembering Billie (Blue Duchess) is a delightful set of ten performances of songs recorded by Billie Holiday. Hamilton had hoped to do a Holiday tribute with Ruby Braff but it ended being something else. The present recording was produced by Hamilton’s friend Duke Robillard and has Hamilton supported by pianist Tim Ray; bassist Tim Ray and drummer Jim Gwin. On two selections, Robillard contributes rhythmic acoustic guitar in the manner of Freddie Green. His backing trio provides supple, swinging support to Hamilton along with occasional solos.
Hamilton’s saxophone playing is rooted in the swing era’s tenor sax masters such as Lester Young and Ben Webster (and I suggest Benny Carter as another source).Hamilton displays a warm and robust sound with a slight vibrato and a definite melodic flair and his playing most likely will appeal to fans of such modern tenor masters Buddy Tate, Houston Person, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Gene Ammons. While the songs on Remembering Billie all were part of Lady Day’s recorded repertoire, most of the performances only hint at Holiday’s recordings. The renditions of Fooling Myself (with a lovely arco bass solo from Zinno) and Good Morning Heartache (with a solo that is structured somewhat on Holiday’s vocal and a nice restrained piano solo) perhaps evoke her recordings more than the other performances.
Throughout this album Hamilton does a wonderful job of musical story telling with his swinging, lyrical playing throughout from the opening of When You’re Smiling to the closing notes of If Dreams Come True. Scott hamilton’s Remembering Billie is a splendid celebration of the music of one of jazz’s finest singers and iconic personalities.
I received a review copy from a publicist for this release. Here is Scott Hamilton in performance.