Billie is Blue at The Jazz Bar (Venue 57) is the new Billie Holiday themed show from jazz and blues singer Mary May, and for anyone with a liking for these songs, this is the perfect show as Mary May’s voice is effortlessly at its best on the vocal range of these songs.
In a 50 minute set, you obviously have to be very selective in what songs you choose to perform from the career of a singer like Billie Holiday, but there are still a few surprises here. Of course, a few standards cannot be missed out in a set like this and “God Bless The Child” and the still very disturbing “Strange Fruit” with its lyrics evoking those terrible scenes of Southern race lynchings are there.
Billie Holiday songs are all about emotion, phrasing and delivery, and Mary May has a voice that can do all of these things so well. There is sadly, a current reality television show style of singing around that seems to require singers to sing as loudly as possible regardless of the lyrical content of the song. Singers in this style could do with going along and watching Mary May perform a set like this to learn that that volume is not always required and how to sing a song like you have lived it.
Mary was with a great quintet tonight – Colin Black (Guitar), Kevin Dorrian (Drums), Alan King (Piano) and Ray Leonard (Acoustic Bass and musical arranger), and they managed to capture the feeling of these songs perfectly.
This show was simply a great set from Mary May and the band, and the audience at a packed Jazz Bar (standing room only left) obviously enjoyed every song here.
Billie Holiday songs are so difficult to sing properly and I think part of the reason for that is that you have to like Mary May be of a certain age (hope you don’t mind that one Mary) to have lived enough to really understand the emotions behind the lyrics. They are not songs that young singers with little life experience can do properly…yes they can get the notes right, but that feeling of “been there, felt that” is so often missing at that age.
I’ve been a bit brief in the song reviews for this show because Mary May is performing this show again at The Jazz Bar on Thursday 25th August, and I don’t want to give her set list away to anyone who may be going along to this show for the first time. I just wish that I had time in this year’s review schedule to catch this second show too.
Review by Tom King