Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lady Day

"I can't stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain't music, it's close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music." ~Billie Holiday

About two weeks ago I painted this image of Billie Holiday, and have been looking forward to sharing it here. But I wanted to wait till I'd seen the film Lady Sings the Blues before sharing. Yesterday I finally saw the film, but during the in-between I was doing a little reading about the famous jazz vocalist and discovered a few additional things worth sharing besides the new painting.

The first is the quote at the opening of this blog entry. It could easily have been lifted from Dylan's Chronicles. This creative approach to every single performance has been one of Dylan's mainstays as an artist. And to some extent this has been the nature of my own art. Each experience in the studio is a performance, and I feel compelled to explore, to not be limited by a style, an expectation, or even my own lack of technical facility.

But the more important connection between Lady Day and Dylan is that both were discovered by one of the great forces behind the music scene, John Hammond. Check out this list of musicians he discovered or whose careers he furthered: Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Big Joe Turner, Pete Seeger, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Freddie Green, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others. A tip o' the hat to Mr. Hammond, who dropped out of Yale to pursue a career in the music industry.

Here are some quotes from the great lady of jazz, and maybe later this week I'll have time to make a few comments about the film Lady Sings the Blues. You can see from even these few brief remarks that she was no lightweight, but a serious artist. Wish I coulda been there to see her.

• "Somebody once said we never know what is enough until we know what's more than enough."

• "Don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain"

• "If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all."

• "I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know."

• "If I don't have friends, then I ain't nothing."

• "If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling."

• "I'm always making a comeback, but nobody ever tells me where I've been."

• "I never had a chance to play with dolls like other kids. I started working when I was six years old."

• "No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music."

• "Singing songs like 'The Man I Love' or 'Porgy' is no more work than sitting down and eating Chinese roast duck, and I love roast duck."

• "Sometimes it's worse to win a fight than to lose."

Portrait of Lady Day, 16"x20", acrylic on canvas paper.


Christella said...

We did get to see Billie Holiday in person. She was fabulous. My favorite song is God Bless the Child. Thanks for digging up those remarks she made. They do tell a lot about her.

ENNYMAN said...

Kudos to you. What was the venue? Large, small? A club in Chicago? What kind of band was she with at that time? How did she engage the audience?
thanks for the note