Knit to This
Knit to This: Nina Simone
Look, just between us, I thought it was 100% total cheating when Kay picked “all of PBS” as her Knit to This entry a few weeks ago. ALL OF PBS. I mean, what did she think the fallback choice was when none of us could think of anything? Answer: ANYTHING ON PBS. It was always such a reliable well from which to draw because we could just turn it on for one second, see that there was a twelve-part miniseries about a ahead-of-her-time secretly royal 17th-century veterinarian suffragette (played by Judi Dench) and bing bang bong, Knit to This practically wrote itself. But no, she’s ruined it for us now. “I PICK ALL OF PBS.”
We have to search farther afield now, get in our cars and go to things, pick things from deeper in our collections, pay attention to what the kids are talking about. We have to turn the channel from PBS. Hmph.
With that in mind, this week, I choose ALL OF JAZZ. All of it. ALL. ALL OF JAZZ. Take that, Kay Gardiner.
But more specifically, I choose You’ve Got to Learn, a release (at long last) of Nina Simone’s legendary 1966 Newport Jazz Festival set. It’s one of those shows that people have talked about in hushed tones since the moment it happened, by all accounts having stopped the Newport Jazz Festival in its tracks when the audience demanded she return to the stage for more. If she had just stayed and stayed and was still singing all these years later, not one person would have complained.
It’s only a six-song album, but by the time she makes her way through “I Loves You Porgy” and “Be My Husband,” and gets to the fifth—a re-worked version of her own defiant, angry “Mississippi Goddam” that she re-arranged (musically) and updated a bit, singing “California” instead of “Tennessee” to reflect 1965’s Watts Riots—it’s quite clear that you’re listening to someone at the peak of her powers summiting Everest. It’s truly monumental. Do I want it to be longer, more than six songs? Of course. Am I happy that we at least have this, this perfect little six? Absolutely.
Simone would have turned 90 this year, and it’s hard to imagine her sounding any less 100% full-bore “Nina Simone” than this set reveals (at one point, she tells the audience to “shut up, shut up” and gosh, I wish more singers would do this today). I was lucky enough to see her live in 2000 when both her health and vocal skills were in decline, and I was still almost struck dumb in awe (ALMOST, as this rambly flapdoodle proves). Anyway, it was a heart-stopping two hours of my life, even with her voice diminished; to hear this Newport set, when she was in absolute full power of everything, everything, everything, including the whole wide world, it seems, is almost too much to think about. ALMOST.
“All of PBS.” I mean.
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