Saturday, 10 August 2013


For some reason, a few weeks ago I decided I needed a Nina Simone compilation in my collection. I can't remember why, though something must have sparked it off, but be that as it may I went on to Amazon and trawled through the many collections to find one which balanced price with range and finally settled on a Music Club collection. I've had Music Club CDs before and they've generally been cheap but good and so I obtained the 39-track 2-CD set-

There's a brief but informative booklet by Paolo Hewitt which is, as informative booklets always are, a good start. The selection covers a wide range of styles and includes 13 live tracks -Simone was noted for her live performances, many of which have been released as albums. What there isn't, however, and is the collection's one bad mark against it, is any indication of which albums the tracks are taken from which might have been very useful had I wanted to pursue investigating Simone further (though there's always AMG -All-Music Guide- for that).

I'm 65 years old so obviously I've heard and seen Nina Simone before but never to the extent of buying an album but I was obviously aware of her ferocious talent. What I hadn't realised before was that she's is simply amazing. Her voice, while not possessed of an enormous range, does have profound depth. I know it's a cliche but Simone does indeed inhabit, live in a song, possessing it complete. She knows exactly what she is doing with every note and every word, phrasing them with complete precision to obtain the effect she wants no matter whether it's a song she's interpreting or has written, no matter what the genre of the song -jazz, blues, pop, folk, contemporary, show tunes, or whatever. She takes your breath away. She can be playful, romantic, profound, wistful, displaying a rainbow of emotions and convincing in every one.

Her voice is matched, and possibly bettered, by her skill on the piano. (Now I am not a fan of the piano as a lead instrument, possibly as a result of several literally painful piano lessons when I was about seven which ended when I ran out of the piano teacher's house in tears and vowing never to go back, which I didn't.) However, Simone's playing is the closest anyone has ever come to converting me to the instrument.  Trained as classical pianist but after being rejected by a major academy, allegedly on racial grounds, despite apparently trashing the other leading candidate, she started playing clubs and bars to make money which is when she started singing professionally and one thing led to another. Her playing is as precise and effective as her singing, one complementing the other.

I'm not inclined, however, to look further, though I am very glad I bought this, simply because Simone's range is so broad and I'm just not into some of the genres she utilisises. On the other hand if I ever came across a collection of her darker themed songs with folk and blues prominently on display then that would be a different matter.

Now, as a member of Amazon Vine I regularly get a limited amount of stuff offered free for review. Not long after listening to album above, the following audiobook came up. Coincidence or some hidden design? Well coincidence obviously. I don't believe the universe would be so ordered just for me to get my hands on an audiobook about Simone shortly after listening to a compilation of hers and anyone who believes otherwise is...

Passing swiftly onwards, this is a 2-part BBC radio documentary put together on one disc. It's introduced and narrated by Simone's daughter, herself a star of stage musicals, who confusingly has the stage name of Simone (just Simone). The first part focuses more on her life, the second on her music though there's inevitably some overlap. The various contributors include relatives, friends, musicians, agents, etc. One of them is a well-spoken British drummer who was with Nina for the last 18 years of her professional life. Overall it pulls together the story of a amazingly accomplished singer and pianist with a volatile and contradictory nature and who from her early days wouldn't take shit from anyone; latterly she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.

This is hardly a definitive account but it is interesting and has sparked me to read more about Nina Simone who is in my not-particularly humble opinion, and without hyperbole, one of the greatest musical artistes of the 20th century.

No comments: