Little Girl Blue
If Eunice Waymon – aka Nina Simone – hadn’t recorded another note beyond this, her debut record on the Bethlehem label (released in 1959), her legend would have been set. Simone wanted to be a classical pianist, but being unable to get into the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (remember, she was a black woman in the American ’50s, trying to break into strictly male “club”), she began to perform jazz piano in Atlantic City nightclubs, changing her name to escape detection by her family.
Recorded in two days with Jimmy Bond, bass and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums, Simone didn’t like the result, and sold the rights to the record label for $3,000.
Because Nina Simone sung these songs until her death in 2003, and they have been used in countless movies and ads along the way. The 11 cuts on this original release (the record was reissued on CD in 1993 with 3 additional tracks, this reissue has only the 11 cuts), and walking away from those royalties must have stung Simone financially, but the outspoken activist and social critic never let a paycheck color her thinking.
Opening with Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and continuing thru standards such as “Little Girl Blue” from Rogers and Hart, Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” and what became her calling card of sorts, “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, this record is phenomenal. It’s jazz, but with roots in classical music – listen to her embellishments to Donaldson and Kahn’s “Love Me Or Leave Me” – this is something new, a jazz/classical improv that for the most part didn’t exist in 1957 – and certainly not with this level of swinging abandon. In addition to her prowess on the piano, Simone had a way of vocalizing that has been rarely equalled in jazz.
From this record, Nina Simone went on to release over 40 more albums, and become a world-wide legend (in fact, she lived her last 15 years in Europe, because of her disgust with the racism in American society), but her unique brand of jazz, vocals and classical music began here. This record has been one of my “desert island discs” since being introduced to it by a high school jazz teacher when I was young, and I hear something fresh each time I spin it. Nina Simone was one of the greatest artists America has ever produced, all from a tiny little house in Tyron, North Carolina. She changed the world – on her own terms. You owe it to yourself to find out why and how. Little Girl Blue will start you along that path – a brilliant, timeless classic that deserves to be rediscovered by each new generation.