Jazz CD Reviews

Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue (Jazz As Played In An Exclusive Side Street Club) – Bethlehem/Verse Music

An expressive and penetrating vocalist coupled with an emotive and intellectual pianist.

Published on October 17, 2013

Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue (Jazz As Played In An Exclusive Side Street Club) – Bethlehem/Verse Music

Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue (Jazz As Played In An Exclusive Side Street Club) – Bethlehem/Verse Music stereo BCP 6028, 45:06 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

(Nina Simone – vocals/piano; Al Heath – drums; Jimmy Bond – bass)

By the time Nina Simone came along in 1958 to record her debut album Little Girl Blue for the original Bethlehem Records, the record industry had moved on from the 10″ LP format to the 12″ LP, and stereo sound was about to replace mono as the dominant reproduction system. Although the original release by Nina Simone was offered in mono, in 1959 the record company issued a stereo version, and that is the version that has been re-released here by the new Bethlehem Records/Verse Music.

When Simone recorded this album, she was an accomplished pianist and had been studying at Juilliard with an interest in continuing these studies. As a singer she had an unusual vocal style filled with stops, starts, and open spaces, somewhat along the lines of pianist Ahmad Jamal. In an irony of ironies, Simone sold her royalty interest in this album back to Bethlehem for $3000 in order to finance her continuing studies at Juilliard. As fate would have it, two of the tracks on the album became popular hits: “I Loves You, Porgy” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me”. It is estimated that Simone lost royalties that might have amounted to about one million dollars over time.

In the liner notes with this release Nina Simone offers the following quotation about herself: “Once I understood Bach’s music I wanted to be a concert pianist. Bach made me dedicate my life to music, and it was that teacher who introduced me to his world.” Listening to the piano opening to “Mood Indigo” the Bach references are easily identifiable as they interspersed throughout the sequence. As Simone then segues into the swinging vocal she offers a most non-traditional reading of the lyric, which says this is not going to be the usual fare and that endures throughout the album. Bach’s influence continues to resonate on the three piano tracks but especially on the Tadd Dameron/Count Basie composition “Good Bait,” which shows flashes of the Goldberg Variations. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has some symphonic touches and even “Central Park Blues” is not free from this inspiration.

On the vocal tracks, Simone demonstrates a capacity to capture both mood and poignancy in “Don’t Smoke in Bed” and then on the title cut “Little Girl Blue” which opens with the melody of “Good King Wenceslas,” and uses that theme as a counterpoint to her evocative vocal. “My Baby Just Cares For Me” is an ecstatic frolic done in a shuffle beat, and for her signature hit “I Loves You, Porgy” Simone  reaches deep inside to bring the heart-tugging lyrics to life.

It was clear that even from this first album that Nina Simone was not only a strong, expressive and penetrating vocalist but also an emotive and intellectual pianist. [Seems like something should be said about Bethlehem’s odd subtitle for this album, but I haven’t decided quite what…Ed.]

TrackList: Mood Indigo; Don’t Smoke In Bed; He Needs Me; Little Girl Blue; Love Me Or Leave Me; My Baby Just Cares For Me; Good Bait; Plain Gold Ring; You’ll Never Walk Alone; I Loves You, Porgy; Central Park Blues

—Pierre Giroux

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