Watch Nina Simone’s Flawless Tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach on The Ed Sullivan Present (1960)


Some 80 years in the past, in a small North Carolina city, Eunice Waymon, a musically gifted, nine-year-old black woman, started taking piano classes within the house of an exacting Englishwoman named Muriel Mazzanovich.

At first, younger Eunice – the given identify of jazz celebrity Nina Simone – felt intimidated, recalling in her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, that they “solely performed Bach and he appeared so sophisticated and completely different:”

In these first classes, it appeared like the one factor she mentioned was, “You could do it this manner, Eunice. Bach would love it this manner. Do it once more.” And so I’d.

As time went on I understood why Mrs. Mazzanovich solely allowed me to observe Bach and shortly I cherished him as a lot as she did. He’s technically good… As soon as I understood Bach’s music I by no means needed to be something apart from a live performance pianist. Bach made me dedicate my life to music.

Her expertise, dedication, and progress have been such that different residents of Tryon, North Carolina pitched in to assist her afford a summer season session at New York Metropolis’s famed Juilliard College, previous to auditioning for Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music.

“I knew I used to be adequate, however (the Curtis Institute) turned me down,” she says within the documentary, What Occurred, Miss Simone? “And it took me about six months to comprehend it was as a result of I used to be Black. I by no means actually obtained over that jolt of racism on the time.”

And but, she persevered, turning into energetic within the Civil Rights motion and utilizing the proceeds from her debut album, Little Woman Blue, to additional her classical coaching.

On September 11, 1960, Simone, who had scored a Prime 20 hit the earlier yr with a canopy of “I Loves You, Porgy” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, made her nationwide tv debut on The Ed Sullivan Present.

Performing earlier than an all-white studio viewers, she paid tribute to each her early coaching and the style that might make her a star, imbuing the 1928 jazz commonplace “Love Me Or Depart Me,” above, with a counterpoint solo within the model of Bach’s Innovations.

It was a talent she had developed throughout a standing piano gig at Atlantic Metropolis’s Midtown Bar and Grill. Its proprietor demanded that she sing in addition to play, and he or she agreed out of necessity, improvising, experimenting, and infrequently permitting herself flights of classical fancy that didn’t go unnoticed by native music aficionados.

She prided herself on bringing a classical musician’s absolute focus to those performances, and anticipated the viewers to abide by an analogous code, taking her arms off the keys if a rowdy drunk talked over her, noting that “in the event that they don’t wish to pay attention, I don’t wish to play:”

Whenever you play Bach’s music, it’s important to perceive that he’s a mathematician and all of the notes you play add as much as one thing – they make sense. They all the time add as much as climaxes, like ocean waves getting larger and larger till after some time so many waves have gathered you have got an ideal storm. Every word you play is related to the subsequent word, and each word must be executed completely or the entire impact is misplaced.

All through her storied profession, she discovered methods to weave Bach-like fugues and different classical references into her work. Witness her 1987 efficiency of “My Child Simply Cares For Me” on the Montreux Jazz Competition, beneath.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and creator, most not too long ago, of Artistic, Not Well-known: The Small Potato Manifesto and Artistic, Not Well-known Exercise Ebook. Comply with her @AyunHalliday.


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