Emotional baggage can provide the fodder for an abundance of creative output. For many people, their first role models and initial formative figures are their parents who, in turn, probably have their own scars and memories to contend with. That, willy nilly, tends to be handed down to the next generation and colors and enriches one’s personal development.When it comes to artists, that can also come into play, often forcefully, in the creative mix. That is certainly the case with Lisa Simone. If the surname sounds familiar, that’s because Lisa is the daughter of legendary chanteuse Nina Simone, who stirred the hearts of millions of music lovers for half a century, up to her death in 2003, but also sometimes perplexed her devotees and bothered some politicians, too.
Simone the younger will bring all her inherited baggage to bear, along with her sparkling talent, when she performs with her quartet at Zappa Herzliya and the Opera House in Tel Aviv November 9-11 as part of the Hot Jazz series.
Simone has been on the stage and in recording studios for quite a while. Now, at the age of 55, and 14 years after her mother passed on, she is very much an artist in her own right.
She has developed her own singing style, which treads expansive tracts that eddy between jazz, blues, pop, R&B and gospel-oriented material.
Perhaps Simone puts over the path of her personal growth continuum most succinctly in a song she wrote called “All Is Well.”
“The lyric opens with ‘All is well, I’m telling myself,’ she says.
That may not sound entirely convincing, but despite noting some feeling ebbing and flowing, she follows that with “all is well with my soul.”
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“When you called, I was writing a song about forgiveness,” she tells me from her home near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. “I was wondering if I should call it ‘Can We Forgive?’” Thus far, the lyrics include the lines “Can we learn to love without expectation? Can we learn to love without obligation?” Sounds like a good altruistic emotion-endowing philosophy. The song-in-progress also raises the question Can we rise above the pain? “That’s what it’s all about,” Simone explains.
While her mother has been gone for some years now and Simone has made great professional and personal strides in the interim, that maternal legacy is still very much a part of her developmental path.
“I divide my time between France and America, and when I am in France, I live in the house where my mother lived and died,” she says.
Clearly, there is no getting away from being Nina Simone’s daughter.
Our conversation was preceded by an emotional episode in Simone’s day when, on her way home from the center of town, she passed the church where her mother’s funeral had taken place.
“I hadn’t been there since the funeral. A nun invited me in, and the next thing you know, I was standing in front of the place where I last saw my mother in the casket. That was a poignant moment for me today, which was unexpected. Memories of the funeral came flooding back, and I thought about how far I’ve come and how much courage and forgiveness it has taken for me to become the woman I am today,” she recounts.
Simone has an abundance of life experience with which to stoke her songwriting and performing endeavor. Her father was not the easiest person to deal with either, but he was an amateur trumpeter and, along with Nina, he helped point his daughter in a musical direction.
That said, Lisa says she was not particularly diligent.
“I started piano lessons when I was young; but when you’re a child, the last thing you want to do is practice. I know the basics, and I play by ear,” she notes.
Still, the genes are there.
“My mother’s side of the family is very musical. They come from the church. Many musicians don’t read music, it’s all natural ability.
My father read music. Most people don’t know that he was an amazing tenor singer. My dad wasn’t just a detective [his profession], he was an amazing musician. My parents had that in common and could talk music,” she says.
Despite, or possibly because of, her parental musical background, Simone chose a very different career path and served with the American Air Force for 11 years.
“I am a veteran of the first Gulf War,” she declares with a hint of pride. “I have done so many things, but I still wound up in the same field that my parents chose.”
The US Army vet cut her professional teeth as a singer in various Broadway musical productions including Jesus Christ Superstar, one of the staples of the genre, later followed by a slot in Rent.
“I had never done theater before Jesus Christ Superstar,” she recalls. “Talk about learning on the fly.”
For the audition for Jesus Christ Superstar, Simone sang her rendition of Frank Sinatra’s hit “My Way.” Fourteen years after her iconic mother’s passing, a long stint in the army, a formative and challenging path through show biz and as a mother to a daughter herself, Lisa Simone will no doubt offer her Israeli audiences a powerful entertainment experience. As the singer notes on her website: “I really feel like I’ve turned a corner and that I feel more whole than I’ve ever felt and ever remembered feeling in my conscious walk on this Earth. And it’s really good to be here!” It’ll be good to have her here.
For tickets and info: (03) 573-3001; www.hotjazz.co.il
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