Book review: Billie Holiday: The Musician & The Myth

By John Szwed
Cornerstone, €29.50; ebook €14.99

Anyone looking for a sensational and melodramatic biography of Billie Holiday will be severely disappointed by John Szwed’s latest offering.

But for those looking for an insightful, investigative and even technical look at the iconic jazz singer, born 100 years ago this year, and her seminal influence on jazz and pop culture will find a lot here to sink their teeth into.

There are plenty of entertaining and illuminating anecdotes about her upbringing, rise to fame and adventures with famous contemporaries like Orson Welles and Frank Sinatra, but where this book really stands out from other biographies of the singer is with the author’s technical understanding of Billie’s songs, his in-depth analysis of her singing style and her songwriting ability.

The book is slightly let down by the fact nothing is in chronological order, which is at times confusing, but on the whole it’s a wonderfully engaging and revealing look at the great Lady Day.


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