Nina Simone

REVIEW: Nina Simone – And Her Friends


Nina Simone – And Her Friends

Another vintage Nina Simone 1959 reissue LP that’s different. Four songs each by renowned singers Carmen McRea, Chris Connor & Nina. Originally a Bethlehem label release, known for its compilations of varied jazz singers, these ladies had already left the label at the time of issue. The music was well-received upon its initial 1959 release. On the somewhat spare Simone tracks the musicians included Nina (piano), Jimmy Bond (bass), & Al “Tootie” Heath (drums). The new 12-cut reissue also includes a stitched insert.

Ms. Simone’s selections were “left-overs” unissued songs never released. Her songs were recorded during the first 1957 NYC sessions for “Little Girl Blue.” Chris Connor & Carmen McRae’s songs came from Bethlehem’s earlier 1956 compilation “Bethlehem’s Girlfriends.”

Nina Simone

And Her Friends (Drops Dec. 3-BMG/Bethlehem) with the opening song — the traditional standard African-American spiritual first published in 1927 “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” Never a favorite of mine as a kid, the original commercial release by Laurie London & those that followed by Kate Smith & Judy Garland, were too over the top show-biz. With Nina’s, it became a more serious, lyrically different take of the tune. A slow ballad, no showboating, far better. More sincere.

Following Nina, a favorite of younger jazz fans Chris Connor sings Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me.” Beautifully rendered, nice warm horns & flute. Typical 50s enticing female vocals well-recorded.

The LP never loses steam. Carmen McRae’s vivid satiny vocal, excellent diction & musicianship unfolds on the chestnut “Old Devil Moon” (with the Mat Mathews Quartet).


Carmen’s compelling voice keeps the momentum going — an interesting swing through standards arranged in an intriguing manner. Back in those days arrangements were pivotal in a singer’s showcase & it surfaces here — marvelously performed.

The elegant song stylist Chris Connor returns on Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate On You,” with a smoky phrasing style often attributed to trumpet player-singer Chet Baker. The embodied cool of Connor would’ve been a perfect duet/foil for Chet.

My minor criticism: these recordings were originally made in exquisite stereo-hi-fi sound. A remaster has made the sound cleaner, not better. While the songs/performances retain their charm, & clarity it lacks a bit of the analog vinyl warmth. (But that’s me).

Don’t be confused – it’s a label concept to compile good surplus songs by 3 wonderful female vocalists who’d been on the same label. It’s a statement album. It’s not Nina getting together to perform duets with 2 peers she may have, or not known personally.


Nina Simone color photo: David Redfern/Redferns/ Chris Connor B&W by NY Times’ Jim Wilson/ Carmen McRae B&W by Free Social Encyclopedia. The 38-minute reissue: Produced by Cheryl Pawelski for Omnivore Recordings.

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