JJ 02/84: Nina Simone at Ronnie Scott’s Club

Forty years ago Barry McRae saw how Simone captivated her audience even when she strayed from jazz and true intonation. First published in Jazz Journal February 1984

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Nina Simone

From the moment she fixed the faithful with a stare that demanded adoration, she had the audience in her pocket. At times this was understandable, most especially when her piano bounced out the turbulent ostinatos to project her voice dramatically, and again so when she took Bessie’s Gin House Blues at a medium rock, changed the lyrics to taste and made it her own. Also when her love stories delivered mes­sages that were strong but not histrionic, and when satire was edged in with Alone Again, Naturally, rebuilt to tell us about her father.

It was perhaps less understandable in the moments when her intonation slipped slightly, or when her earth shouts vanished into the trivia of Sunday In Savannah. Her phraseology was straight from the jazz tradition, yet there were also occasions when her timing became rather stiff. Once the act was under way it did not seem to matter, however, and the crowd encour­aged her to deliver her popular numbers, even at the expense of her jazz items. Above all else, she again confirmed that she is an original and impressive artist, able to move in and out of the jazz world without it noticing and always with aplomb.

The Ronnie Scott Quintet provided the support act and very well they did it. The proprietor’s tenor was assertive as he hard-bopped effortlessly, and Dick Pearce’s trumpet playing seems to get more relaxed by the month. The rhythm team of John Critchinson, Ron Mathewson and Martin Drew provided the ideal ba­lance of rhythmic flexibility and propulsive backbone.