Billie Holiday

​The set work for 2023 A-Level Music Area Of Study 2 (Billie Holiday). This may not be useful in later years but I strongly recommend creating revision cards in a similar style for this area of study 

The original versions:                                  The covers:

Don't Explain,                                                Don't Explain,

Good Morning Heartache,                          Good Morning Heartache,

Solitude,                                                         Solitude,

Them There Eyes,                                         Them There Eyes

  • Created by: JosephPHS
  • Created on: 01-02-23 13:37

Don't Explain - Voice

Billie Sings in her signature style with a mellow tone to match the style and meaning of the song. Billie uses strong vibratto in a way that conveys feelings of hopelessness and helplessness showing that she doesn't expect the person who she's talking to to change she simply doesn't want to waste time having them explain themselves as she knows it will just happen again.

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Don't Explain - Melody (In relation to lyrics)

The melody Billie sings is minor in nature with many resolutions to D the supertonic of the key and often they follow passing notes of C (tonic) or E (mediant). This gives somewhat of a resolution to the tonic or the 3rd but then ending on the 2nd note of the key exaggerates a feeling that Billie feels lost with this partner 

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Don't Explain - Harmony

Many of chords are extended with dominant, major, minor, or flat 7ths,
Also uses dominant or flat 9ths and sharp or flat 5ths, 6ths, and 13ths
Uses invesion to create descending basline and transition between relative major/minor
Use of chrod prog. like ii - V - I/i and i - ii - V adapted with chromatic passing notes
B section follows circle of 5ths with strong use of extended chords for transition between keys
Use of extended chords creates subtle dissonacne to match lyrical tone
Movement through keys may show Billie's feeling of being lost with somewhere that should be her home (c minor/e major) but isn't and she wants to get away from it but simply can't always resolving back to the home key

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Don't Explain - Accompaniment

Strings provide countermelodies and sustain chords often arranged in thirds and covering a wide range
Brass accompanies Holiday's voice through comping and some use of countermelodies such as saxophone in improvisatory style
Muted trumpets combine with strings to provide transitions between sections
For the most part the accompaniment provides comping and decorative phrases in response to Billie's vocals

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Don't Explain - Structure

Adaptation of typical 32 bar song structure   

Short instumental introduction   

A,A,B,A,B,A format

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Don't Explain - John Coltrane

Intro of repeated G notes in different octaves paired with a crash played with a beater/brush - this phrase comes back as a transition between sections

No vocalist, much more minimalistic, general jazz band (double bass, piano, trumpet, sax, drums)

Intial structure similar to Billies however many lyrics are ommitted with some sections of instrumental

Even slower than Billie's

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Them There Eyes - Voice

Holiday sings in her signature style but this song is considerable more lively and upbeat which creates a flirty sound when combined with Holiday's soft voice

Holiday uses vibrato in the first verse of this song on the end of each song, and in this context it adds to the flirty tone created 

There is also a strong use of call and response between Billie and the accompaniment creating the sense that she is saying this all to someone

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Them There Eyes - Melody (In relation to lyrics)

This melody is written in a higher register compared to those which Billie normally sings in creating a new timbre that is more lively

The melody rarely resolves to the tonic until the end of a section which pushes the song forward as it does not feel complete until it reaches this point creating an upbeat feel

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Them There Eyes - Harmony

As jazz harmony goes the chords in the song are relatively simple with mainly 7th chord and some further extensions or added notes

There is some use of augmented chords and very little use of diminshed chords to create little dissonance for an upbeat feel

The verse is loosely based around the 12-bar blues progression using a shortened version of the chord sequence with presence of altered/extended chords

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Them There Eyes - Accompaniment

Introduction - stabs of trumpets and drums punctuated with chromatic ascending and descending passages on the saxophone

Verse/Chorus - stabs from trumpets and drums punctuate phrases of Billie's vocals which evolve into fanfare like passages. Saxophone punctuates some passages with chromatic ascending and descending passages similar to intro

Instrumental section - saxophone and trumpets play complimentary melodies. Saxophone plays distinct melodic line and trumpets play fanfare-like stabs before one trumpet takes over the main melody.

Throughout the song so far, piano drums and double bass have mainly been comping with chords (Piano), a swung hi-hat rhythm (Drums) and a mix between walking bass and a high-low pattern (D. B.).

During the call and response section only drums and double bass can be heard comping simply during Billies vocal phrase with the other instruments creating a much thicker texture with more complex rhythms during the instrumental phrase

In final repitition of "Sparkle. Bubble" Billie's vocals emphasised by accompaniment punctuating each lyric with a stab but remaining silent for Billie's vocal  

For the finale the trumpet plays a large fanfare accompanied by the drums playing the same rhythm on the snare drum

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Them There Eyes - Structure

8 Bar Instrumental Introduction

ABAC - Each section 8 bars forming what sounds like 2 verses/choruses

32 Bar instrumental section split into two 16 bar parts the first dominated by saxophone melody and the second by trumpet melody

ABAC Section is repeated but altered:

  • First A section omits the answering phrase of Billie's lyrics. Instead Billie sings the 'question' and the accompaniment immitates the melody she sings
  • C section involves "Sparkle. Bubble." alteration mentioned in 'Accompaniment'
  • C section is also extended to 12 bars for coda fanfare
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Them There Eyes - Frank Sinatra (Natalie Wood)

Duet  - Call and response fashion with some harmonising between the two singers generally on the title lyric (and sometimes lyrics leading up to it such as towards the final lyric)

Musical theatre style

Contrasting vocal styles between Billie's emotive and raspy performance and Sinatras smooth and polished rendition with a velvety tone

Holiday emphasises emotional depth and storytelling through improvisation while Sinatra leaned towards a more sophisticated manor with rhythmic drive

Both influenced by Jazz with elements such as swing, syncopation, and improvisation

Holiday contained elements of Blues while Sinatra had more pop influences

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Good Morning Heartache - Voice

Billie uses a smooth vocal tone with subtle use of vibratto with a defeated quality to it, implying that she is in despair and has given up trying to overcome these feelings she is experiencing.

She extends some notes in a legato style creating a melancholic nature to the song and a reflective atmosphere.

Billie uses great dynamic control and adapts her phrasing to transiotion between periods of delicacy to some extremley powerful moments emphasising the meaning of the song with the delicacy representing that Billie feels somewhat broken and the power emphasising the emotions Billie is feeling.

BIllie also uses subtle bends and inflection in her vocal to add to the jazz/blues tone which the song already contains. 

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Good Morning Heartache - Melody (Lyrics)

Generally conjuct with rising melodies leading to a resolution before falling back to the main lyric, symbolising that as hard as she tries to overcome this sadness and get over her past lover she repeatedly falls into despair

Descending phrases suggest the sense of sadness and resignation exaggerating that which is present in the lyrics

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Good Morning Heartache - Harmony

Strong use of dominant 7th and diminshed chords which creates dissonance and tension empahsising the lyrics and the meaning of the piece with the loss and pain that BIllie is feeling in this scenario

The dominant 7th chords often don't resolve to the tonic as they would like to creating further tension and an atmosphere of lonliness and sadness suggesting Billie feels perpetual heartache that never seems to show any signs of getting better. It could also show a sense of unfulfilled longing that no matter how hard Billie tries she could never get over these feelings

Harmonic chromaticism can also be found within the chords of this song introducing chromatic notes to create extended diatonic chords or chords with a chromatic root adding harmonic colour and emotion to the accompaniment of Billie's lyrics

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Good Morning Heartache - Accompaniment

Accompaniment is mininmal in the verses with consistend pulse kept by snare and pizz. double bass playing a high-low pattern. This creates a sense of lonliness accentuating the meaning behind the lyrics of the song.

The rest of the ensemble do provide some simple acompaniment with some sustained notes and punctuating phrases as well as some decorative phrases provided by the piano however as with the rest of the accompaniment this is kept to a minimum in the verses.

During the repetition of the bridge section the accompaniment becomes much more dynamic drawing tension to exaggerate the lyrics.

Double Bass can be heard playing a descending walking bass in the final repetition of the title lyric creating a sense of resolution and accepetance in that Bille has accepted she must live with this heartache.

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Good Morning Heartache - Structure

The piece follows a typical popular song structure with:

Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus - Bridge - Chorus - Coda

This provides a narrative flow to the piece and an emotional arc allowing Billie to tell a melancholy story of heartbreak and lonliness. Additionally it highlights BIllie's vocals giving her the spotlight and allowing space for improvisation and variation

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Good Morning Heartache - Jamie Cullum (Laura Mvula

Duet to show the effect of a breakup on both parties

Contrast between Jamie's cold and raspy tone and Laura's much warmer timbre shows the differences between the two and how they have been affected each to a different extent

Jamie often sustains and emphasises the consonants of his lyrics to again create a cold atmosphere (e.g. the n sound of "(with the) dawn" whilst Laura sustains the sounds of vowels with a much more open tone to contrast this

This contrasts Billie's singing style as she was untrained so likely would not have thought about a technique such as this and would stick to her signature singing style

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Solitude - Voice

Billie's performance of this song uses a smooth timbre with greatly controlled dynamics providing elegance however there is also a certain raspiness present which subtly envokes a raw and gritty quality to the piece.

Additionally there is a smoky and husky quality to Billie's vocals creating an intimate sound

These timbres evoke a sense of rawness and vulnerability, aligning with the theme of heartache and longing in the lyrics. They convey the pain and emotional intensity experienced by Billie, creating a direct connection between the timbral qualities and the meaning of the song.

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Solitude - Melody (In relation to lyrics)

The melody generally follows a descending pattern jumping back up at the beggining of each phrase to continue descending, emphasising the feelings of longing and haunting.

Ascending phrases and intervals can be heard ("Dear Lord above, send back my love") providing periods of some hope amidst the solitude Billie finds herself in.

Often there are leaps of a fourth or further within an otherwise conjunct piece ("In my solitude. You haunt me" Leap of a m6 between Solitude and You adding a quality of uncertainty and melancholy)

Billie often uses bends or mordents as well as slides which adds to the sense of longing which Billie is feeling

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Solitude - Harmony

Primarily homophonic with moments of polyphony creating depth and complexity between the melody and accompaniment

The general hompohonic texture gives Billie the lead allowing the audience to focus on her phrasing and lyrics to emphasise the emotions and effects of her vocals.

Billie also makes use of extended chords in this piece with 7th 9th 11th and 13th chords each of which provide a level of dissonance to introduce different emotions to the song (11th chords provide colour and dissonance, 13th chords provide elegance and lush)

Specifically the final chord is a broken chord of a tonic 7th (G# major 7th) which shows whilst Billie may be able to move past this in the resolution to the tonic she may never completley heal, shown in the semitone difference between the tonic and 7th creating dissonance.

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Solitude - Accompaniment

Drums and D.B. keep a steady beat to provide a pulse and accentuate any moments of syncopation creating jazz/blues feel

Muted trumpet and clarinet share decrative phrases with either harmonised phrases or phrases of dialogue and immitation between eachother creating an intimate and chamber-like texture. The intertwining melodies and harmonies of the two instruments can evoke a sense of closeness and musical intimacy emphasising the meaning of the song how these feelings of longing and despair 'haunt' Billie.

The two instruments also play some individual phrases during Billie's vocals potentially smybolising how Billie and her lover have parted ways to compliment the melancholic atmosphere of the piece

Piano also provides some decrative phrases accompanying and punctuating Billie's vocals with mordents and runs - Introduces chromatic notes adding to jazz/blues feel

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Solitude - Structure

32 Bar (AABA) song form with 4, 8-bar sections

A - Chorus

B - Bridge

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Solitude - Ella Fitzgerald

Much thinner texture being only Ella accompanied by a Jazz guitar providing homophonic accompaniment to provide harmonic support and embellishments 

Ella has a much more confident and smooth tone which she manipulates in her sustained notes at the end of phrases.

While both use vibratto, Ella's is much more controlled and apparent likely due to her proffessional training which Billie does not have

Ella manipulates her tone to create a warm feel contrasting the cold lyrics of the song where she sustains notes giving them deep undertones to make them sound lower in pitch without the pitch actually changing. She also compliments this with a more breathy sound within her voice as she sustains and fades the note out. This again is likely something Billie could not do as she did not have the training or ability to manipulate her voice in this way

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