Ev­ery­day Hol­i­day

A new col­lec­tion of in­ti­mate pho­tographs cap­tures the iconic jazz singer in her nor­mal life

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY CA­ROLE BURNS book­world@wash­post.com

It’s easy for the rest of us to for­get that fa­mous peo­ple — ac­tors, ath­letes, pres­i­dents or, in this case, an iconic jazz singer — are just peo­ple who hap­pen to be fa­mous.

“Jerry Dantzic: Bil­lie Hol­i­day at Sugar Hill,” a sleek cof­fee ta­ble book of pho­tographs, many never seen be­fore, is a re­minder that be­tween the fame and the in­famy, nor­mal life hap­pens. In glossy page af­ter glossy page, Dantzic, a pho­to­jour­nal­ist who died in 2006, cap­tures Hol­i­day per­form­ing, mostly at the Sugar Hill mu­sic club in Ne­wark, one of the cities she turned to af­ter New York banned her from per­form­ing in night­clubs be­cause of her drug ar­rests.

It’s the ev­ery­day na­ture of these black-and­white pho­tographs that makes them so un­usual. Hol­i­day is pic­tured walk­ing into the club be­fore a per­for­mance; putting on her makeup in front of a dress­ing room mir­ror; be­ing licked on the cheek by her Chi­huahua; hold­ing her blond­haired god­son in her arms; or lean­ing over a pan in her friend’s kitchen.

The book, put to­gether by the pho­tog­ra­pher’s son and cu­ra­tor, Grayson Dantzic, is a loosely chrono­log­i­cal photo es­say of nine days in Hol­i­day’s life. Most of these pho­tographs — cho­sen from nearly 400 — cap­ture the time around sev­eral gigs at the Sugar Hill in April 1957. Hol­i­day died two years later at age 44.

Christo­pher Sweet, who edited the book, said the pho­tos in Hol­i­day’s dress­ing room are prob­a­bly his fa­vorite. “They’re re­ally very moving. She’s pre­oc­cu­pied or putting her lip­stick on or nuz­zling her Chi­huahua. But even on stage you’re see­ing this range of ex­pres­sion. You see this woman bat­tered by life, time and strug­gle, but also you see this an­gelic beauty that she had.”

It was a chal­leng­ing pe­riod in Hol­i­day’s life. Although she’d per­formed at Carnegie Hall the year be­fore, her health was poor, and her fi­nances dif­fi­cult. When she did per­form, though, her au­di­ences were huge and de­voted.

Grayson Dantzic said he’d had no idea, grow­ing up, that his fa­ther had even known Hol­i­day, let alone pho­tographed her. He was fa­mil­iar only with his fa­ther’s panoramic color photography. He had spent most sum­mers of his child­hood in the fam­ily mo­tor home while his fa­ther drove across the United States, work for which Jerry Dantzic had re­ceived a grant from the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts, two Guggen­heims and a solo ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York.

It wasn’t un­til his fa­ther be­came ill that he found out he’d worked in 1950s New York. Grayson Dantzic asked what he could do to get to know him bet­ter. “My fa­ther said, ‘Go up to the stu­dio. See what you find.’ So I went up­stairs, and I see these pho­tos on the floor of Bil­lie Hol­i­day, Louis Arm­strong. I came down­stairs and said, ‘I’m quit­ting my job, and I’m go­ing to work for you.’ ” Af­ter his fa­ther died in 2006, Grayson Dantzic spent years try­ing to find a pub­lisher for “Jerry Dantzic: Bil­lie Hol­i­day at Sugar Hill.”

Bri­tish nov­el­ist Zadie Smith, who sang jazz be­fore she be­gan pub­lish­ing fic­tion, pro­vides a cu­ri­ous in­tro­duc­tion to the book: a short story writ­ten from Hol­i­day’s point of view. “You give it all away, it streams from you, like rivers rolling to the sea: love, mu­sic, money, smokes,” Smith writes. “What you got, ev­ery­body wants — and most days you let ’em have it.”

Ca­role Burns’s most re­cent book is “The Miss­ing Woman and Other Sto­ries.”

JERRY DANTZIC ARCHIVES

A new photo book chron­i­cles Bil­lie Hol­i­day’s per­for­mances at the Sugar Hill club in Ne­wark in April 1957. Here she is pic­tured with her dog, Pepi.

JERRY DANTZIC Bil­lie Hol­i­day at Sugar Hill By Jerry Dantzic, Grayson Dantzic and Zadie Smith Thames & Hud­son. 144 pp. $40

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