You have picked two of the greats. As a life long fan of Nina Simone I am more familar with her catalog. She transcends many musical styles, jazz, blues, folk, broadway, rock and pop. All of her albums are different and worthwhile. Her current catalog on cd is littered with best ofs, greatest hits, compliations, 2fers and some individual albums. One of my favorite and one she oftens states that she is very proud of is "Nina Simone and Piano" It is available as a single cd and on a 2fer. As far as Billie Holiday my favorite lp is "Songs for Distingue Lovers".
I am probably less familiar with Nina Simone than Rec, but I can recommend "Nina Simone sings the Blues". I have this on DCC vinyl. The sound is good, but it is an old recording and is not a stellar one. I have not heard "Nina Simone and Piano", but it sounds like I should. As for Billie Holiday, the famous "Lady in Satin" is my favorite. I also have this on LP, rather than CD. It is a very, very good recording, but I have no idea about the CD.
check allmusic.com for suggestions. a terrific web site overall that doesn't get quirky with its suggestions. many jazz artists recorded with multiple labels over their careers, so it can be tricky finding just one cd that contains all of the essential stuff. with billie holiday, i'd go with something from columbia, although some of the well-known songs, like strange fruit, were done on other labels.
Simone is hard to reccomend just one LP/CD.Check out listings on www.allmusic.com.Billy well that's much easier.You could check out her voluminous catalog on Colombia (13 CD's or more I believe).Not the best fidelity but her voice was young and fresh.I would say the single CD "Best of the Commodore" years or 2 CD best of Decca.Some folks like her latter Verve stuff but drugs and alchohol had burned her throat out by the 50's and I find it depressing.Go Decca or Commodore.Others you might like would be Ell Fitzgerald "Clap hands here comes Charlie",Sara Vaughn "With Clifford Brown",and Dinah washington "Dinah Jams" (Also with trumpeter Clifford Brown.The greatest of the great would include Billy,Ella,Sarrah and for the modern 60's Betty Carter.I used to help folks build jazz libraries when I worked in a record store for 5 years so if you have any other questions just email me.Best single reference is the book "The Allm usic Guide to Jazz" miller/freeman press.It has music maps so you can easily see who were the best performers on an istrumnet (inlcuding voice) for a particular era or style.Well worth the cost of 2 CD's since one spends so much you want the best not a shot in the dark.There web site is something I used daily when ordering for mytslef or the shop (www.allmusic.com).Enjoy you have a beautiful world ahead of you.
I realize this is not an answer to your question but please indulge me.
If you ever run accross a record or cd that's cover is simply a picture of Sarah Vaughn with her name on it, get it. Every song on it is standard. . stuff like A Train ,Moonlight in Vermont,Georgia Brown ,and so forth.
The album contains no other information at all. Most persons who heard her late in her career heard a 2 pack a day habit plus 30-40 years. This album,from her prime, might stun you.
I'll add another vote for "Songs For Distingue Lovers" and also the Commodore collection for Billie. I recently got "Lady In Satin" on cd (remastered by Columbia Legacy) and I'm not sure if I'd recommend that one yet--my speakers seem to be a bit too revealing of her by then ravaged voice, but I need to listen to it a bit more.
As far as Nina Simone, I have been listening to "Best Of the Colpix Years" alot lately. Sound quality varies wildly from track to track (this is a hodgepodge of singles and live recordingings from the early 60s), but there is a lot of good stuff on it. In particular, it contains a stunning rendition of "House of the Rising Sun" (sadly somewhat marred by iffy sound quality).
Thanks for all of the suggestions!
As a follow up, I did relsten to all my Billie Holiday cds, and I can defintely say that the Verve Master Edition of "Songs For Distingue Lovers" is the best sounding disc I have even if it is not the best example of her voice.
The Commodore recordings are a bit rough (from the 1930s), but they do include some great performances including her original rendition of "Strange Fruit". A better sounding disc of her early voice is Columbia/Legacy's "Greatest Hits", so that may be your best bet for early Billie.
Beware Verve's "Ultimate Billie Holiday". Some of the tracks are from vinyl and include surface noise. Also, I find Verve's "Billie's Best" (perhaps a misnomer as these are more recordings from the 50s) a bit bright sounding.
And upon further review, I really do not care for the way her voice is presented on the Columbia Legacy reissue of "Lady In Satin". It really seems to shine a harsh spotlight on her declining vocal chords--throws them right in your face. May be the vinyl is better.
As a longtime fan of Holiday, I am of the (dissenting) that her recordings on Verve are at least the equal of the earlier Columbias. In fact, I actually prefer the Verve recordings and have spent many a night reveling in the box set, which includes studio recordings, concerts, even rehearsals. Whatever her voice had "lost" as a consequence of her personal breakdown is more than compensated for by the added "texture" and depth of feeling--plus, the recording quality is generally very good. The Commodores and Deccas are also good, but neither of these periods is up to the brilliant Columbias or the profound Verves. If you can swing it, I recommend getting both box sets. The Columbias were remastered last year and sound much better than before. I listen to them and am impressed. But it has always been the Verves that really move me.