August 21, 2009


Lee Hartgrave reviews
August 21, 2009

KIM NALLEY TRIBUTE TO BILLIE HOLIDAY - Nalley makes her real – Pennies From Heaven, Them Their Eyes and My Man are just a few of the songs that are associated with Jazz Singer Billie Holiday. Nalley doesn’t imitate Holiday, but leaves a Ghostly presence of the famous, but troubled star.

“Mon Homme” the popular song known in the U.S. as “My Man” was originally composed by Jacques Charles, Channing Pollack, Albert Wilemetz and Maurice Yvain. The song was popularizied in the English speaking world in the 1920’s with the 1921 recording by Ziegfeld Follies singer Fanny Brice. The song was a huge hit for Brice and the record eventually earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for Brice. Brice’s version was the standard ballad. It was Billie Holliday, who introduced a jazz/blues record of “My Man.” Holliday’s version was also extremely successful and many thought that she was the first one to record it. In Europe the version of the song by Edith Piaf was the big hit of the same song in France.

Nalley not only sings the songs associated with Holliday, but she gives a running commentary on the Star (Holliday) who went from being a prostitue to becoming a popular recording star who also sang with the Count Basie band and the Artie Shaw band.

According to Nalley, Holliday didn’t care for the traveling part of the job with the Shaw band. She was a New Yorker and a Black singer in the south did not sit well with audiences. She couldn’t even use the bathrooms at the clubs – she had to relieve herself in the grass. Holliday was not happy and left the band to return to New York where she blossomed and began to write her own songs.

Her career was cut short as she played small dives around the country. I once was walking down a rundown area in Chicago and saw this dumpy bar with a sign on the Window that said Billie Holliday tonight. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. And that is how it all ended for her. She was broke – she needed to eat and feed her biggest problem – Drugs. She died of Liver Failure.

Nalley gives us a great snapshot of this important Jazz Singer. Her descriptions of what happened during Holliday’s ups and downs is downright fascinating. And the her exciting renditions may not sound just like Holliday, but her versions have that underlying feeling that reminds of Holliday on “God Bless The Child”, Tain’t Nobodies Business”, “Them their Eyes’ and one of Hollidays biggest hits “Strange Fruit.” Nally’s easygoing style on the stage is infectious. You can’t help but like her and appreciate her varied talents. She even sang two versions of one of the songs, as Holliday would do it – and how Ella Fitzgerald would do it. It’s amazing. Same song, – yet so different.

All in All – Kim Nalley is Electrifying! The show is compelling, heartbreaking and amusing. Don’t even think of missing it at The Rrazz Room at the Nikko Hotel on the main beautiful lobby. Times Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm. Also there is a late show with Kim Nalley and Rhoda Scott at 10pm tomorrow (Sat) 10 pm.

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

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