A Billie Holiday Songbook - a centenary tribute

Simply shimmering, stunning music. This is all about the very spiritual essence of these songs.
— WDUQ Jazz
Downes possesses shimmering tone, expansive lyricism, attentiveness to tonal color and mood dynamics, and nimble articulation. Her interpretation is meditative, poetic, almost dreamy at times, as she appears to merge the voice of her instrument with the voice of the singer heard through the filter of Downes’ own imagination.
— Fanfare Magazine
Possibly the most intriguing Holiday tribute may be this one by pianist Lara Downes. The adroit pianist goes solo in interpreting songs associated with the vocalist... A focus on the lyrical side of the Holiday Songbook that works well.
— Jazz Weekly
Lara Downes evolves the songs with absorbing lyricism that evokes the eternal artistry of Lady Day...Downes achieves this impressionist musical journey with self-confidence, reverence and creativity.
— Paula Edelstein: AXS.com
Renditions that capture the essence of material with authority and finesse... Throughout, Downes’ classical background is apparent, imbuing the music with seriousness, depth, and original perspective.
— Broadway World
Ms. Downes plays each piece lovingly, caressingly, soulfully... you have to concede that no one could do them any better. We practically hear Holiday behind the piano.
— John Puccio: Classical Candor

A special project commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Billie Holiday. Lara brings her radiant sensitivity to an intimate exploration of the songs forever associated with Lady Day's iconic interpretations.

A Steinway & Sons Records release, March 2015.

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When Lara was 8 years old, she wrote in her diary that her favorite song was Billie Holiday’s I Cover the Waterfront. Ever since, says the pianist, who has been praised by the New York Times for “loving attention to mood and color”, she has been enthralled with “the startlingly distinctive qualities of mood and phrasing, line and color” heard in Holiday’s singing.

Downes grew up listening to Holiday’s recordings with her father, who was born and raised in Harlem only blocks from the iconic jazz clubs where Lady Day was a star presence in the 1930s and '40s. She acknowledges that Holiday’s singing has been a lifelong influence. “As a musician, I learned from Billie Holiday to make something completely personal when you make music,” she says. “To make something that is completely your own - maybe something unexpected, something indefinable, perhaps complicated, but beautiful. To take a chance. To quote this album’s final song: “Beautiful to take a chance, and if you fall, you fall. And I’m thinking I wouldn’t mind at all.

Transcending historical divisions of genre, this project honors the tradition of American music “beyond category”. Lara performs songs including God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit, and But Beautiful, capturing the essence of what defines the unique sound of American music and our American legacy. Solo piano transcriptions by Jed Distler. 


Lara's personal memoir But Beautiful: My Life with Billie Holiday, as published in the Fall 2015 issue of LISTEN magazine.


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TRACKS 1. Yesterdays 2. God Bless the Child 3. Blue Moon 4. Willow Weep for Me 5. Don't Explain 6. Body and Soul 7. I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You 8. I Wished on the Moon 9. Them There Eyes 10. Billie's Blues 11. Good Morning Heartache 12. The End of a Love Affair 13. What a Little Moonlight Can Do 14. Ain't Nobody's Business 15. Strange Fruit 16. I'll Be Seeing You 17. Lover Man 18. I'm a Fool to Want You 19. I'll Be Around 20. I Cover the Waterfront 21. (In My) Solitude 22. But Beautiful



AUDIENCE RESPONSE: World Premiere Performance

The superb translation of Billie Holiday’s music by Lara Downes was mesmerizing. She kept her audience riveted to the beautiful and haunting music. Thank you for giving us the pleasure of listening to Lara’s magnificent presentation.

Lara Downes’ Billie Holiday was exceptional! We appreciated the information on Holiday intertwined during the performance. We are so fortunate to have such a talented performer! I look forward to hearing her again.

The concert was such a wonderful tribute to Billie Holiday. I recently lost a friend in an accident and I thought of him throughout the concert - so peaceful and heartfelt. Thank you for bringing us such talent to our region. I will definitely see Lara again should she return.

Lara Downes’ piano concert “Remembering Billie Holiday” was exquisite. Her playing is beautiful and the program very thoughtful.
— World Premiere Performance: Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts