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Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Ninth

August 25, 2006

9. Autumn in New York—Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday - Ken Burns Jazz: Billie Holiday - Autumn in New York

For those of you out there in TV land who don’t “get” jazz, I highly recommend Ken Burns’ documentary on the subject. I really didn’t “get” jazz myself until I saw the series, which explains what the first jazz artists were trying to do with their music, how they were attempting to liberate the music from its former forms and constraints.

Previously I’d thought (though not firmly; I knew I didn’t know what I was talking about) jazz to be a bit wanky and not really that important or interesting, with the exception of maybe a few great albums, notably Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

After viewing the documentary, I feel I have a greater understanding of the jazz artists’ intent, and therefore can appreciate the music in a much deeper way. Sure, I might still love rock ‘n’ roll above all other musical forms, but now that I understand towards what those artists were striving, I feel I can really appreciate and “get”—or at least move closer to “getting”—it.

But the above’s got virtually nothing to do with the song in question here.

This song, quite simply, whether you know a lot or nothing about jazz, is vision-conjuring and beautiful. (It connects to the above plug for Ken Burns’ documentary in that I first heard it therein.) Billie Holiday makes you feel what autumn in New York is like, in a deliciously sensual way. Listening to this song I can feel the fall air on my skin; the high, angled, coppery sunlight of a fall afternoon “shimmering” down through “canyons of steel.”

Ms. Holiday is singing about a simple happiness, a full fellow-feeling with the city’s other inhabitants—and, in fact, the (at times) seemingly sentient city itself. It’s something I look forward to, but calmly, peacefully. As Ms. Holiday sings, succinctly and sweetly:

It’s autumn in New York
It’s good to live it again

How very true. Or, more accurately, how very soon to be true.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 30, 2006 9:55 pm

    Despite what was going on in Ms. Holiday’s personal life, she truly was an artist with talent and a voice that painted pictures. The imagery in her songs is umatched. If you can’t hop a place to Paris in April, just close your eyes, listen, and taste the city.
    – Ms. Jones

  2. Anonymous permalink
    August 30, 2006 9:55 pm

    Despite what was going on in Ms. Holiday’s personal life, she truly was an artist with talent and a voice that painted pictures. The imagery in her songs is umatched. If you can’t hop a place to Paris in April, just close your eyes, listen, and taste the city.
    – Ms. Jones

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