Nina Simone: To Be Free - JazzWax

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September 15, 2008


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Ivan Santiago

The phrase "[e]ach time you listen to the singer's voice, you come away with a completely different impression" rang true for me, even if my impressions of Nina's singing are not always positive. In fact, for a stretch of time, I was left with the half-formed impression that she was not much of a singer. (In one performance, she herself says that she isn't, and some of her live vocals leave plenty to be desired.)

But these days I'm back on the pro-Nina track. Despite what I wrote above, she has long been among my favorite singers -- and I have listened to pretty much every studio recording that she made. Her masterpiece is to me the album "Nina Simone and Piano!," which she recorded for RCA. I'm also partial to the Bethlehem debut album, to her Colpix abum of standards "The Amazin Nina Simone," and to her Ellington songbook.

Marc, as usual, I found food for thought in your essay. This time it was the following, in particular: "Many jazz fans have bypassed Simone, finding her too far from the bop, too coarse for pop and seemingly limited as an improviser in the swing tradition. Rock and folk fans usually embrace her under the false pretense that she's a pure jazz artist, which she's not. As a result, Simone for years remained misunderstood and outside of categorization" Makes sense to me.

The "beyond categorization" moniker has actually ended up working in her favor -- similar to the case of Bobby Darin. The variety of cultivated styles, including rock, folk and liberational anthems, seems to have turned her catalogue into a commercial goldmine. I say so because the number of Nina compilations out on the market seems endless -- a few new ones coming every other month -- and the main labels are endlessly recycling her stuff. I have on CD not only the original albums but also various retrospectives on each of the main labels. I might still buy this brand new retrospective (of which I wasn't previously aware) if I find out that I don't have the DVD and/or some of the live tracks.


Tom Marcello

It's not too often that you can return to a recording time after time, year after year and still be thrilled by what you hear like it's the first time.

Nina Simone's "Nina at Town Hall" is one of those recordings for me.


Tom Marcello
Manager / Joe locke

Aaron Overfield

it's not my intention to spam but i did want to let people know about the Nina Simone Community Forum where fans have assembled on a wide range of Nina and non-Nina related topics.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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