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Jamison Ross pays tribute to Nina Simone

2nd January 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

“I feel at one with what Nina brings to the table,” says vocalist and drummer Jamison Ross who will lead a trio in tribute to the late great Nina Simone at the Little Gem Saloon from Tuesday, January 2, through Saturday, January 6. Each night, Ross, who, like Simone, began his musical journey in the church – his father was a pastor, Simone’s mother was a minister – will focus on important periods in the pianist, vocalist and composer’s remarkable career. That will naturally include her spiritual beginnings and the first song Simone learned on the piano, “God Be With You, Till We Meet Again” and those she wrote as a voice of the Civil Rights Movement like the fiery “Mississippi Goddam,” plus the inspirational “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”

Ross, who at the end of the month is releasing his follow-up album, All For One, to his Grammy-nominated, self-titled debut, hopes to evoke the spirit of Simone at these performances while creatively intertwining his relevant original material. “It’s living the music, not just singing the music,” he says of Simone’s style that he wishes to capture.



Simone, who in 2017 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon though in respect for her mother changed her name when she began performing secular — “devil’s” —music. Early on she had designs on a career in classical music and attended the Julliard School of Music and first gained attention as a jazz pianist. Simone’s career rose with the release of 1958’s Little Girl Blue that included such masterpieces as “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and “Love Me or Leave Me.” She gained international recognition for her recording of “I Love You Porgy,” from the musical “Porgy and Bess,” which, it has been reported, she learned from Billie Holiday’s rendition.

Ross will be working at the shows with two of this city’s strong, and seemingly ever-present, up-and-coming artists, bassist Max Moran and pianist Shea Pierre. Pierre, 25, attests that Simone has influenced his playing but perhaps even more so his composing. “The biggest thing is her honesty, her vulnerability and the way she was able to speak of the times,” Pierre offers. “She was able to provoke serious thought but in a fun and musical way. She knew how to translate the times into music.”

Like Simone and Ross, Pierre started playing music in church. A student at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), he attended Oberlin College and just returned to his hometown in 2015.

Ross too, appreciates Simone’s ability to musically “mirror the period” in which she lived. It’s a goal he’s set for himself as a musician and composer.

Nina Simone passed away on April 21, 2003 in her adopted country of France where, it seems, she found refuge from the racism and bigotry that she experienced — and wrote songs about — in the country of her birth. Her music lives on through these young men because, as Ross puts it, it sonically and spiritually delivers a message that continues to be relevant.

Showtime for Jamison Ross’ Tribute to Nina Simon at the Little Gem Saloon, 445 S. Rampart Street, is 7:30. For reservations and further information, go to

Marcus Roberts Trio
Crescent – Celebrating Coltrane
(J-Master Records)

Pianist Marcus Roberts revisits saxophone giant, the late great John Coltrane’s brilliant 1964 release Crescent capturing each tune’s essence with his piano, bass, drum and notably, sax-less trio. In doing so, Roberts relies on his elegance, spirituality and sense of humanity that is indicative of Trane’s work to imaginatively delve into the magical atmosphere of the original. On a practical note, performing the material with his longtime trio — bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Jason Marsalis – discourages those who might be inclined to try to make comparisons between the two, very different, releases.

Marsalis is up on the opening title cut, “Crescent” with the splash of his cymbals acting as an introduction to Roberts’ dramatic, almost classical entrance. Jordan’s bass remains very much in the mix, sometimes walking, sometimes taking unexpected directions. In this setting, each instrument can be distinctly realized as well as appreciated for their contributions to the ensemble.

The trio performs the entirety of the material on Coltrane’s album with the tunes appearing as they did on the release. So up next is “Wise One,” a beauty of a song on which Roberts takes his time, seemingly savoring every measure and note. It then takes on a rhythmically and melodically Latin tinge with the pianist favoring the upper end of the keyboard.

The familiar “Bessie Blues” swings with a more light-hearted flair that stands in contrast with the sorrowful, yet lovely, “Lonnie Lament.” Naturally, Marsalis is featured on “Drum Thing” and by primarily using mallets he gives the piece African tonality.

The album closes with a Roberts original, “Traneing In” that showcases Jordan and then gets jumpin’ in a energized mood. Celebrat-ing Col-trane de-serves this joyful conclusion as it represents the greatness of the man of the hour as well as these talented and inspired artists’ dedication to his and all jazz music.

This article originally published in the January, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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