Near the beginning of her interview on the DVD that accompanies her tribute album to the great Billie Holiday, To Lady With Love, Annie Ross tells the story about how she first met Lady Day when she was called upon to stand-in for her at an Apollo Theater gig. She recalls her trepidation at filling in for a singer she had idolized since she was a teen, and she recalls Holiday’s supportive reaction to her performance as she fell into the star’s arms when it was over. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted through the rest of Holiday’s life.
Ross, now in her eighth decade and understanding her own voice is no longer what it was when she became famous as a member of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, rather than looking to work with material from when Holiday was at the heights of her vocal powers, chooses to honor her by revisiting Holiday’s 1958 sunset recording, Lady In Satin, a recording made when Holiday too was reaching the end of her remarkable career. With the exception of a short into and an original concluding piece, “Music is Forever,” a kind of musical catalogue of the greats who have passed on, as well as an additional song or two, the bulk of the album is devoted to covers of songs from the Holiday album.
Whether she is covering classic tunes like “For All We Know” and “You’ve Changed” or less well known pieces like “Violets for Your Furs,” there is a heartfelt emotional honesty in the drama of her vocal stylings that makes up for the vocal limitations of age. Like Holiday back in the day, Ross knows what she can do with her instrument, and what she can’t. Ross is a pro. She reminds me of Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” the aged warrior refusing to “rust unburnish’d,” setting out to do something great again before the inevitable end. Ross gives a heroic performance.
Other tunes in the set include “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You,” “When Your Lover Has Gone,” “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” and “Travelin’ Light.”
She is accompanied brilliantly by the guitars of Bucky and John Pizzarelli.