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A Los Angeles Childhood – All That Jazz: Nina Simone at Montreux
Thursday, 11 August 2011 13:54

How many of you out there have heard of Nina Simone? She was born in 1933, named Eunice Wayman, in North Carolina. She died in 2003 at the age of 70. She was a concert-trained pianist educated at Juillard School of Music. She was active in the civil rights movement “often to the detriment of her career”. Critics feel that she followed in the tradition of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. I feel that there was no one like Nina and no one to take her place.

My friend Marie became friends with her when Nina Simone was in Los Angeles and appeared at the Vine Street Bar and Grill in the 80s. I met her on one of her good days, a day when she was not troubled by her demons, on a day when she was gracious and relaxed.

Nina had the reputation as being difficult. It was rumored that there was to be a concert at Carnegie Hall with Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba and Odetta. The concert was cancelled before it was fully formed.

In 1976 Nina Simone appeared and performed at the Montreux International Festival in Switzerland. I was fortunate to watch the DVD from that concert recently. It also included out takes from 1987 and 1990.

It's a DVD that catches up with her, tells her story in her own way, stops and starts, blank look, walking on stage, a pause that seems like eternity until she finally sits down at the piano, waits again and begins with Little Girl Blue, followed by Backlash Blues, lyrics by a young black activist named Langston Hughes, who I remember for his poetry. Other songs in this concert included Janis Ian, Stars.

Later came I Loves You Porgy, Someone To Watch Over Me. These were from her 1987 and 1990 performances. She also sings Four Women, whose names she mentions after honoring them in the song. I found this on a Youtube video at the following site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCwME6Jpn3s. She talks about Nelson Mandela who has just been released.

Nina Simone sings Jacques Brel. She is focused and in some way calm, resigned, appearing on the cusp of happy to be on stage signing, garbed in African Print, her hair in cornrows. Standing ovation, just as at the earlier concerts. She sings with such passion, "Ne me quitte pas."

After all, we all have our demons, our joys, spirits that speak to us in different ways. For me it is writing. For Nina Simone? Well you be the judge. Many of you may not have ever heard of her. She informed my life and changed me, and watching this DVD brought it all back.

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