Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Divas: Jazz Voice Volume 1 - The Ladies Sing Jazz

I just finished watching Jazz Voice, Volume 1: The Ladies Sing Jazz and loved both the diverse styles and the performances. There are a few issues, which I'll address, but the line-up covers Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Ethel Waters, Anita O'Day and Dinah Wasington.

Billie Holiday - most of Lady Day's performances were marred by poor video and/or sound quality. Of the 23 performances on the DVD, she has eight: The Blues Are Brewin', Easy to Remember, What a Little Moonlight Can Do, Foolin' Myself, Fine and Mellow, Strange Fruit, Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone, (I Love You) Porgy. My favorite is Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone, although she turned in an excellent performance of Strange Fruit. The performance of Fine and Mellow is from her 1957 last session with Lester Young, which is discussed in this post. Despite the poor video and audio of Billie's performances, it is always a pleasure to see and hear her. Here is the clip from the DVD of her singing Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone:

My recommendations for additional information and music are in Lester Young & Billie Holiday: the Krishna and Radha of Jazz.

Nina Simone - tracks 9 through 14 are devoted to Nina, with the following songs: I'll Look Around, Improvisation, When I Was in My Prime, Zungo, For All We Know, There Is a Book of Love. Most of this material is from a 1961 concert, and it not only showcases her unique voice and singing style, but also her mastery of the piano. If she had never sung a note, she would (or should) be remembered for her compositional and playing abilities. She was blessed with a natural talent and training at Juliard, which she was unfortunately unable to complete. Most of her work was deeply rooted in African music, and the performances here show it. My favorite, Improvisation, is shown as the last song in this clip along with much of her 1961 concert:

This quick, 26 minute Nina Simone Documentary provides the essence of Nina. Digging deeper, I Put A Spell On You: The Autobiography Of Nina Simone tells her story in her own words, while Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone gives a view from the outside. Of of albums, Anthology: The Colpix Years, contains 40 tracks that are representative of her music and is a highly enjoyable listen.

Ethel Waters - sadly this DVD contains a single performance that does not do her the justice she deserves. Here is the clip:

As the first African-American superstar her life and work should be of interest to any jazz fan, and especially those who are interested in her early years. Fortunately, there is a wealth of information about her, including her book, His Eye Is On The Sparrow: An Autobiography, as well as Stephen Bourne's book, Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather. Her music spans decades, but the best single album I have found is Ethel Waters 1929-1939. It is not comprehensive, nor does it include her early, ground breaking work, but is an enjoyable listen of Ethel at her peak.

Anita O'Day - a remarkable singer who had the ability to sing in crazy fast tempos that made her the darling of the big band era. Her gift for managing fast tempos added significantly to Gene Krupa's orchestra. On the DVD she has two performances - Thanks for the Boogie Ride and Let Me Off Uptown, both of which were with Krupa. Note the edgy inter-racial flirting on Thanks for the Boogie Ride, which was scandalous in the 1940s. Also notice the tempo at which she sings it:

Anita's style grew significantly since the clips on this DVD were shot. I love her performances of Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea For Two in Bert Stern's iconic movie, Jazz on a Summer's Day. Her performances on Jazz Icons: Anita O'Day Live in '63 & '70 further evidence her continual growth as a singer who manages to keep abreast of the times. And this in spite of problems that she brought on herself, and that she wasn't the least bit shy about admitting in her biopic, Anita O'Day - The Life Of A Jazz Singer nor in her autobiography, High Times Hard Times.

Dinah Washington - the best for last. My favorite vocalist has six tracks, of which the following is the one I most enjoyed:

The complete track list of songs she performs on this DVD are Only a Moment Ago, Such a Night, I Don't Hurt Anymore, My Lean Baby, Lover Come Back to Me, Send Me to 'Lectric Chair. The latter, a Bessie Smith song, is my favorite because Bessie is another of my favorite vocalists.

Dianh's career encompassed everything from swing, to blues and jazz, to popular music. Two particular standards for which she is known are What a Difference a Day Makes and Teach Me Tonight. However, she also covered Hank Williams' Cold, Cold Heart, and even hit the pop charts with a duet with Brook Benton with Baby, You Got What it Takes (which is on an album she did with Brook titled Two Of Us.

She is also featured in a performance of All Of Me on Jazz on a Summer's Day (memorable not only for her singing, but because Max Roach had the drum chair and she displayed some skill on the vibes.) To learn more about Dinah check out Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington. Albums I recommend include The Best of Dinah Washington - 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection and Compact Jazz: Dinah Washington, both of which cover the torch songs for which she was most famous. If, like me, you are a Bessie Smith fan, I highly recommend Dinah Washington Sings Bessie Smith. A great companion to that one is Dinah Washington Sings the Blues featuring Quincy Jones, as is Back To The Blues.

In a future post I will cover Anita O'Day in more detail, followed by a post about Dinah. Until then, enjoy the music!

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