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Lisa Simone, Jazz No Jazz festival, Zurich 2015

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  • Lisa Simone, former broadway actress and now singer-songwriter, daughter of the late Nina Simone performed in Zurich as part of the Jazz No Jazz Festival on 31, October 2015.
  • She lives in France with her husband and daughter.
  • Her most recent album: “All is Well”. Buy it here.

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The Lisa Simone concert at the Jazz No Jazz Festival, was not just a concert, it was a story: the story of a woman coming to peace with the relationship with her mother.

Being Irish, this is a topic very close to my heart. When a country is economically poor, they find other ways to create riches. I grew up with stories, spun like tapestries of words conjuring images of colour, joy and tragedy. In the past, story tellers  were quite well off, respected and admired. Gifted poets wrote poems for kings and were paid handsomely.

It is impossible to speak about Lisa Simone without mentioning her rather famous mother, Nina Simone. Nina Simone was not just an accomplished singer and pianist, but a civil rights activists. Nina began playing the piano at four years of age, and her talent was so palpable that her community raised the funds to send her to Juilliard, the exclusive performing arts school in New York. One of her iconic songs: “My Baby Just Cares for Me” is one of my all time favourites.

Lisa Simone’s concert began with acoustics. She is flanked by a Sengalese guitarist, Irvay Shan, who, as well as being a compelling musician, is quite the stage adornment with his boiler suit orange shirt and dreadlocks. Reggie Washington from New York was on bass, and and Sonny Troupe was on drums. After several minutes Lisa joined the stage. Her first song was melodious, sorrowful, ‘The Child in Me’: “Every time you leave, the tears would roll down my cheeks. You were my life, and every time you left a part of me died”.

Listen to her perform this song in Paris here:

The tone was probably not matching that of the audience, who were ready for a party on Hallow’een night. But after the first two songs, she knew how to get the party started.

She sang some of her own songs, “Autumn Leaves”, about her walking her dogs the day she heard her mother died. She also sang one one of her mothers big hits, “Ain’t got no life”.

Other covers include one from the 60’s band, the Mommas and Poppas

How would one describe her? She has a great voice, a strong stage presence and a sort of Janet Jackson look about her. She is a a good mover and sports a figure who likes to wear leather (and look good in it). When I asked my husband how old he thought she was, he said 30. Well that is impressive for a 53 year old. At one point in the concert, she disappeared from stage, telling us we were “Looking in the wrong direction”. I looked around expecting to see her on the upper viewing gallery. She surprised us all, when she joined the audience and stopped to shake hands, even handing over the mike at one point and even hugging another enthusiastic fan.

Why did I choose this concert? Not because I really knew Lisa’s music, but curiosity as I admired her mother. She must be good, I thought, to be able to get gigs that go beyond the legacy of her mother.

I was not so polite as to close my ears when I heard others discuss the same topic. One lady said to her friends: ”She must have had the perfect place to learn, surrounded by all that music and that brilliance”. Her friend, who was a doctor disagreed. He was the son of a famous doctor, and he had had a life of constant comparison, feeling he had to work much harder to be he recognised. I wondered where the truth lay.

One might easily think that Lisa Simone grew up with her mother cradling her lovingly on her knee, showing her how to play the piano and encouraging her. Or that she has lived a life of privilege living off the royalties of her mother’s music. This seems far from the truth. Lisa’s youth was peripatetic, abusive and no doubt, excruciatingly lonely. Her mother was away a lot, and Lisa spent long spells with governesses and relatives. Lisa ran away from home at 14 after a severe beating. She then went to live with her father, Andy Shroud, Nina’s first husband and former manager.

Nina Simone, who allegedly suffered from bi-polar depression was a gifted but troubled soul. She did not include her daughter in her will, and and a lengthy legal battle ensued over her valuable legacy.

The concert ended with her song: “I Feel Free”, which I thought was very touching, and right. “Prayer is a powerful thing and when you pray you have to have faith (….) The Goddess of justice has smiled upon in the name of God and my mother. (…) Those who tried to deny me my rightful legacy on me, in the name of the mother(… ).. I am finally free.

And free Lisa Simone she is. Free from her past, free from the name that is both a blessing and a curse, but she is free to blossom, sing, dance and shine.

(C) Image copyright Eve Magazine France (evmag.fr)

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