Monday Notes

Billie Holiday e Lester Young, Without Your Love

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[Monday’s Note No. 5] Billie Holiday had a troubled existence, full of suffering. Many men enriched themselves by exploiting her, only to turn their backs on her in times of trouble. Among her few genuine friends was Lester Young, to whom she owes the nickname ‘Lady Day’. Let us analyse their interpretation of Without Your Love.

Billy Holiday also invented a nickname for his friend Lester Young, she called him ‘Prez’, because for her he was the ‘President’ of all tenor saxophonists.

The two worked together on some early recordings, Billie Holiday greatly appreciated the accompaniment of her friend Lester Young and asked him to play while she sang the theme, a rather unusual procedure because normally a wind instrument playing along with the singer is intrusive and disturbing.

Lester Young’s phrasing, however, is so delicate that it does not disturb Billie Holiday’s singing at all; on the contrary, it intertwines with it perfectly, creating a refined polyphony. In Without Your Love, we can appreciate the rich background created by Lester Young for Billie Holiday’s thematic exposition.

The singer has an extremely personal and original style. One of her stylistic traits is her ability to reduce the melody to a few essential notes, simplifying the original theme and making it essential and sparse, so as to emphasise the rhythmic and expressive aspect of the song.

We can see how the melody of the first 16 bars of the theme is reduced to a few repeated notes.


Billie Holiday’s career was for a long time imprisoned in the stereotype of the cursed and unhappy artist. Her most famous interpretations are of dramatic and painful songs, but she was also at ease performing swing songs with a light-hearted and sparkling tone. This is the case with Without Your Love, an example of her human and artistic partnership with The President Lester Young.

Until next Monday!

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