Nina Simone

5 March 2013 in Music

Nina Simone’s voice wavers in that unsteady way—she always sounds as if she’s on the verge of crying, though tears are probably the farthest thing from her mind. “Black is the color…of my true love’s hair.” She weighs her words, each one, as if on a twin scale in front of her on the piano. (It is her chemist’s desk.) When satisfied, she converts the words into phrases that suffuse the room. The music is unweighable.

On the piano, she punctuates the song like she doesn’t give a shit. It’s as if playing the piano is a bore to her, an additional task that she’s only doing because the studio producer asked her, oops, would she mind. She is unsurprised. And she plays as easy as if washing her hands with soap and warm water.

She keeps to the rhythm, with no wish to confuse us, inserting her triadic remarks in parallel motion between the drummer’s swishy swish. What would be so dull notated in a theory notebook, Simone delivers with a nonchalant stare. “Yes, this is all it is, and it’s fabulous, see?”

Two thirds of the way through the song, her fingers betray her. They laugh, they scurry, and they want to play games. She may sit at the piano as if posing for a sculptor, but her stoic torso yields to feline fingers. They craft a commentary full of mirth and meaning.

She is more than a pianist. You sense all of her past lives. She is the most graceful lawyer in a courtroom. She is a mother sitting on the edge of her child’s bed. She is an announcer at The Masters. Every phrase, spoken in pianistic gestures, captures a story so precise and memorable that you know she’s not lying. Hers is the legal pronouncement, the bedtime story, or the perfect putt that you’ll never forget. Nina Simone at the piano is a storyteller, and her stories are stories for the ages.