Nina Simone lived in Paris from 1981 to 1983. Like most American artists who take up residence there, the elegance and majesty of the city transforms them. During these years, Simone lived in southern Paris near the Parc Montsouris in the 14th arrondissement, in a small, 260-square foot apartment that was largely empty except for a piano. Parc Montsouris was created by Emperor Napoleon III and is one of the city's largest public green spaces.
In the winter of 1982, Simone performed at Aux Trois Mailletz in Paris's Latin Quarter to sparse audiences. That year, she also recorded Fodder on My Wings, an album that for years was among her most obscure. Recorded for the French Cy label, Simone played piano, harpsichord, organ, synthesizer, shaker and tambourine. She was joined by an unknown trumpeter, Sylvin Marc (el-b,vcl), Sydney Thiam (cga,bells,woodblocks) and Paco Sery (perc,tymp).
Now, Fodder on My Wings has just been re-issued by Verve/UMe with three bonus tracks from the recording session. The album is remarkable for several reasons. Simone seems emotionally liberated and sings and plays a number of songs with a zesty Caribbean and African feel, including the autobiographical track Liberian Calypso. She also records a spectacular cover of Gilbert O'Sullivan's Alone Again, Naturally in tribute to her father, who had just died.
Other deeply personal songs include I Sing Just To Know That I'm Alive, I Was Just A Stupid Dog To Them and Color Is a Beautiful Thing. In each case, you sense Simone gliding thought the air, free from the pressure of managers, producers, record label executives and club owners. In this regard, there's a folk feel to her songs and performances.
Of course, breaking from such individuals also can launch you into an economic tailspin, since earning a living depended largely on those who could put money in your pocket. Suffering from bipolar disorder, daily routines and consistent behavior became difficult for Simone, resulting in erratic behavior punctuated by violent outbursts.
In Paris, Simone's mental illness worsened and her family life came unhinged. Despite her personal woes, Simone felt revamped by Paris and the African musicians she met there. The 13 tracks on this album capture Simone in full spirit but seemingly inching around the ledge of life.
Listening to her robust vocals and keyboard playing, one can hear the mental pain as well as a desperation to hang on. Her singing yields an expression oddly in sync with today's pandemic and feelings of fear and anguish. We are all stressed, mentally, by a sense of vulnerability and dread. You can almost hear Simone singing for those who have been taken from us in this pandemic. Give a listen from start to finish. [Photo above of Nina Simone by Herb Snitzer, courtesy of Herb Snitzer]
Nina Simone died in 2003.
JazzWax clips: You can hear the entire album starting with I Sing Just To Know That I'm Alive here...
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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