Richard Brody on John Szwed’s new book, “Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth”:

In general, the desire of even the most discerning
critics, such as Szwed, to separate art and life, to analyze the formal
traits of works as if they were dissociable from the experience and the
emotions that inspire them and that they convey, is both noble and
doomed—noble, because artists deserve to be honored for their
achievements, and doomed, because the formal and systematic nature of
those achievements isn’t what makes them endure. The individuality, the
immense complexity of inner life that art conveys—including Holiday’s
seemingly straightforward and instantly appreciable art—doesn’t occur in
a laboratory-like isolation.

Photograph by Charles Hewitt / LIFE / Getty

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