Saturday, May 10, 2008


Let me say right off the bat that I think Nina Simone was one of the great artists of the 20th century, I love her music, her singing and her piano playing; I'm saddened that she never recorded a 'Nina plays Piano' album, I'd love to have it. All that said I must admit to some severe reservations re. her DVD "Nina Simone at Montreux, 1976.
A few days ago Ejay initiated a conversation over on the side by posting a link to a youtube Nina performance he'd come upon, it was the 1976 Montreux concert. I'd never seen it nor her in this sort of performance and I was blown away by her intensity and emotional performance. I immediately ordered the DVD, It came today.
Back in the 80's I recall a conversation with a friend in LA, he was the host of 'the' R&B/Soul music program on 'the' top Jazz/R&B radio station in LA. We were chatting in the studio [off-air] . The conversation turned to Nina, I suggested that he should consider an 'in studio interview' with her. " Absolutely not, She's fucking crazy" he said, and then went on to relate several DJ's who'd done just that and what the results were. OK, perhaps he had a point. A few weeks later she did an interview at KRCB's 'Morning becomes Eclectic' show which I have on tape and she did break down in tears on-air and the host did have to go to an extended station break, it was a very awkward interview, she's not an easy subject to talk with, she's very emotional.

So when Ejay turned me on to the Montreux performance I was immediately intrigued and ordered it.
I've just looked at it twice and I think my friend was right, She's nuts! At least she's a very troubled woman, she's angry and confrontational with the audience several times, there's a thing with the mic placement for the first several minutes which really makes no sense, we're at the 13 minute point before that's resolved. She seems to be very stoned. There's so many items of her dialogue that would warrant 'discussion', several points where she's confrontational with audience members, several points where there's throwaway lines that could cause critics to be very negative. The audience bends over backwards to accommodate her, the MC goes out of his way several times to try to keep her onstage but even as early as at the 30 minute point she's walking off, she's done, but she does come back, for a total of five songs, the rest of the time, the introductions and personal comments are endless though I'm sure perfectly valid and justified from her perspective.
Don't get me wrong; I ordered this DVD because I thought that what I saw of Nina's performance was amazing and I was right, there's some wonderful music here but there's also an insight into her insecurities and her paranoia, yes, she's not a perfect person, she makes me think of Van Gogh, Gaugin, Sylvia Plath and Tolstoy. I think my friend in the studio was right, she's a wonderful artist and a marvellous musician but she's troubled and this video is an awkward and revealing means to discover that; I kept wishing that she's just get back to the music, to the piano but she insisted on revealing yet another layer.
Here's Ejay's initial link plus a couple of cuts that show her superlative musicianship, if you want the rest you must go to Amazon or wherever.


ejaydee said...

I mustn't have seen the whole thing, as the oner I saw on TV ended with the drum solo, her little dance, and a snippet of Sinnerman.
But I think you're being a bit harsh with her, I mean sure I would have been terrified of her calling me out for looking the wrong way or something had I been part of the audience that day, but I also understand her frustration at the Swiss audience. If they wanted to bend over backwards for her, they would be clapping along, hollering approval, singing along, laughing at her jokes, etc. Of course I think the language barrier has something to do with it, and she should have taken that into account.
I think the moment when she orders someone to sit down is great, because it's not me.
Oh and you know there is a Nina Simone plays the Piano album, have you heard it yet? Or did you mean an all instrumental album?

goneforeign said...

Ejay: No I meant just Nina and a piano, does that exist, if so I'll get it. Re. the performance all that you say is true but it's also full of revealing details, much as I loved her music I felt sorry that she had to be there, she seemed very uncomfortable much of the time, I wondered if she was medicated, there was one brief throwaway line like 'I'm so high' or similar.
There may have been a language /culture issue there but the audience did respond, there was huge applause at the end of each song and plenty of applauses at her comments, she was definitely amongst friends. Thanks for turning me on to it, I need to re-see it a few more times.