Nina Simone and flamenco - Jazz Appreciation Month (1)
A for April, A for appreciation - April is actually Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) to pay tribute to this particular music form, especially in the United States. As an extension of Jazz Awareness Month started by the Louisiana Jazz Federation in New Orleans in 1980, this annual celebration officially launched in 2001 by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Although we can’t still expect social gatherings, the ways of appreciating jazz aren’t restricted to having concerts and events; it could involve reading about it or listening to it at home. The theme for 2021 is women’s impact and contributions to jazz, with the featured artist Nina Simone (1933 - 2003), whose musical style actually included not only jazz but also classical, blues, folk, R&B, etc. As there are plenty of other sites featuring the singer, here I’d like to briefly share a few of her significant pieces with a relation to flamenco.
Ne Me Quitte Pas
‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’, a 1959 song by a Belgian male singer Jacques Brel, has been covered by many artists, both in the original French and other languages. Although Nina Simone was just one of them, her unique and sentimental interpretation deeply moved the popular female flamenco singer Estrella Morente more than its original so much that she recorded her flamenco version of this song, dedicated to Simone.
‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ by Nina Simone (1965)
‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ by Estrella Morente (2006)
Featured in the album ‘Nina Simone with Strings’ in 1966, ‘Blackbird’ symbolises a girl who wants to fly but cannot, being trapped in a cage of loneliness and hard circumstances. This somber tune inspired a flamenco dancer in the USA, Cristina Hall, and led her to create a mellow yet powerful choreography to Simone’s affecting voice. Fluid yet rhythmical, her contemporary style contrasts with primitiveness, provoking a prism of emotions and enabling the audience to touch the depth of the tearful soul of this song.
‘Blackbird’ by Nina Simon (1966)
‘Blackbird’ danced by Cristina Hall (2011?)
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
Another profound song ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ in 1964 also portrays the expressiveness and soulfulness of Nina Simone. Despite the brilliance of her singing, the tune actually became more famous in its blues-rock edition by The Animals, released the following year. Also covered by other artists, the best known modern version is probably by the American / French / Spanish disco group, Santa Esmeralda. While their musical arrangements partly take influence from The Animals, it has gone close to flamenco-latin-disco, which would make your body move.
‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ by Nina Simone (1964)
‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ by The Animals (1965)
‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ by Santa Esmeralda (1977)
(After listening to this song, I wouldn’t be the only one who started to feel like watching ‘Kill Bill’ again…)
Being energised by the music, we’d definitely rediscover the great artistry of Nina Simone, who still inspires many of us until today. Luckily, we have the whole month of April to do so.
Jazz Appreciation Month