Thursday, February 07, 2013

All is Gold That Glitters, Part 2

... continued from here.

Colpix LP # 407 (1959)
For all we know, Nina's first Colpix album (The Amazing Nina Simone) was released in August 1959 (see also the Nina Simone Database). Considering the fact that the songs were only recorded in mid-July '59 in NYC the LP was really rushed out; the first review of the LP appeared already in the July 20, 1959, issue of Billboard. It might be of interest to report here what it says:
Here is a splendid new artist on her disk debut [a typical Billboard blunder since Nina's first LP was actually Bethlehem BCP # 6028, rel. towards the end of 1958!]. Miss Simone already identified with the jazz field, can sell strongly in pop too with these offerings. Her style has touches of many artists - Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Della Reese, even Marian Anderson, who was an influence on Miss Simone in her earlier days. The gal has a fine spiritual-gospel quality and is strongly oriented to folk- blues traditions. Program consists of a few standards, jazz stylings and gospel type numbers. An impressive artist well worth hearing. (p. 23).
Several issues later, Billboard felt compelled to provide some basic information about Nina Simone, under the heading »Thrush Nina Simone Was Piano Teacher« (Aug. 17, 1959, p.20). In October, we find a little notice clarifying Nina's label affiliation (Oct. 5, '59, p. 23) because many, it seems, were in doubt whether she recorded for Bethlehem or Colpix (actually she was with Colpix since April '59), and in the next issue Nina's name was listed - among Frank Sinatra, The Shirelles and Ernest Tubb! - as Today's Top Talent (Oct. 12, '59, p. 9).

Nina Simone, promo photo believed to be taken in 1960.
ad from EBONY, May 1960
By December 1959, Nina had further gained in notoriety. First press items appeared which spoke about Nina's temper during her live per- formances, e.g. the piece in JET (December 3, 1959, p. 44):
The way those San Francisco fans don't love Nina Simone the way they "love" Porgy. During a performance before a huge audience, Nina was booed, heckled and hissed by fans who claimed she talked too much, was indifferent and temperamental. Half of them walked out not wanting "to stay" there any longer, much less "forever.
However, she really made it, publicity-wise, when EBONY published a large article about her (including numerous photos), »Nina Loves Porgy«, in December 1959. Here again reference is made, right in the first lines, to Nina's »moods« but the author also finds something to recommend about her temper:
No female singer since the electric emer- gence of Sarah Vaughan 13 years ago has provoked such a bewildering variety of reactions and opinions as has this wiry, moody girl from Tyron, North Carolina. By creating acute controversy over her merits as a musician, she has injected a stimulat- ing and refreshing new force into the troubled, strife-torn and often murky waters of American jazz. When she sings she either disturbs or delights her hearers. Seemingly indifferent to the furore she has created ...
And voices who found much to praise in Nina's art were not lacking either. In the January 7, 1960, JET issue, the Chicago jazz critic Sidney Lazard is quoted with the words:
Her every song is like the revelation of a beautiful, exciting secret. And those who listen fill up with an undisguised happiness, tempered only by the knowledge that it will all end too soon (p. 24).
(Sidney Lazard was then to write, for the March 1960 issue of the ROGUE magazine, a piece entitled »Nina Simone, Tempestuous Talent«, but I haven't read or seen it yet.)

To return to Nina's first Colpix album! Nadine Cohodas in her biography of Nina Simone, Princess Noire, stresses correctly that the Colpix sessions of July 1959 (resulting in the first LP) were completely different from what (and how) she recorded at Bethlehem: While the Bethlehem sessions were »intimate« (three musicians in a small studio), the Colpix sessions were managed by Hecky Krasnow of »Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer«-fame and Nina »was part of a larger mosaic assembled by others, from song selection to arrangement. ... Krasnow had picked an eclectic mix of songs, ... and [the arranger Bob] Mersey surrounded Nina with violins, muted trumpets, and flutes, a prescripion Colpix hoped would bring crossover sales in the pop market (p. 83).« This, in the case of many other artists, would have proved a recipe for musical disaster, but it did not in the case of Nina Simone. Her presence and musicality saved the day and notwithstanding the lush production Colpix put up around Nina, the results were great. And for once I really agree with what we read on the back cover of her first Colpix LP; in general, those notes are so plainly smooth-written and honey-drafted to lure even the most critical customer in buying the most inaudible crap, but this does not apply in this case:
Nina is ... whatever the words and music she is singing really mean. Nina is a musical experience - an emotional trauma - an intellectual challenge ... Nina is a cauldron into which have been poured all the streams of musical expression and consciousness that shape American musical thought and emotion; classical, jazz, folk, ballad and Negro Church music ... When Nina plays and when Nina sings - the cauldron boils and the audience bubbles over ... Everything Nina does is new and different - how do you prove it - with standard material, all new material or stuff pulled down out of orbit? ... This album is just as good as your ear. Everything than can be said in the musical idiom within the boundaries of the twelve numbers ... is here said ...
This about sums it up nicely, I think.

From EBONY, Dec 1959, p 169.
For the record, and for the sake of complete- ness, Mrs Cohodas in Princess Noire got some different information as to the release dates. On p. 91 especially, she states that Nina's Colpix 45'' # 135 was put out in January 1960 and goes on to say that the »record was a teaser for the anticipated release of two full-scale albums, The Amazing Nina Simone ... and Nina Simone at Town Hall«. In fact, three singles were taken from Nina's first Colpix LP (one of those, Colpix # 135, actually also features »The Other Woman« not on the LP), but they were all released in 1959, # 135 in particular in November '59. The LP was already on the market by then for three months. Cohodas then claims that »before Colpix could get the LPs in circulation«, Bethlehem issued another album entitled Nina Simone and Her Friends. As is known, this Bethlehem LP irritated Nina mightily (to put it mildly) because her contract with Bethlehem/King had expired and she had signed for one album only (namely her 1958 Jazz as Played in an Exclusive Side Street Club aka Little Girl Blue). In her autobiography, Nina said that »[m]y first album for Colpix was The Amazing Nina Simone, but before it even came out Bethlehem had released a rival, Nina Simone and Her Friends, which contained the few remaining songs that we had decided not to use on Little Girl Blue« (I Put A Spell On You, p. 65). Now this is consonant with what Nadine Cohodas claims, but the Bethlehem LP referred to (BCP # 6041) was not out before January 1960 (or maybe even February), i.e. at a time when the first two Colpix LPs were already circulating for months. I can't resolve this, obviously, but I still believe that the Colpix LPs were released before Bethlehem came out with their second (abusive) LP in early 1960.

Enough of this, let's listen to Nina Simone instead! Her first tune on her first Colpix LP, recorded in mid-July 1959 ...

Nina Simone: »Blue Prelude« from the Colpix LP # 407 (1959):


  1. Mehr, mehr!! rief der kleine Häwelmann :-)

  2. Thanks both of you for your appreciation!
    It took me some time to find out about the Häwelmann ;-)

    1. It’s a story my father used to read to me quite a lot… a good story, I suppose, for annoying kids who can never get enough, never want to go to sleep, but always ask for “more, more!” ;-)

  3. Hi HMS, Glad to see you're still blogging away.

    Unfortunately, Catch That Train and Testify isn't my blog anymore. The name was hijacked by some sort of commercial or spam site, so you might want to remove the link so your readers aren't directed over there. Thanks, Marie

  4. Done! Will try to catch up which blog you're on right now

  5. Hi HMS, here I am (finally):

  6. Dear M, thank you very much!