Before watching the excellent new documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone?”, I knew relatively little about celebrated songstress Nina Simone –except that she is held in the highest regard by anyone who knows anything about music. And now I know why.
For instance, I didn’t realize that she was a classically trained musician whose original ambition was to become America’s first widely celebrated black concert pianist. When racism forced her off her original career path, she reinvented herself as a jazz vocalist out of sheer financial necessity, but she never forgot her first love, as evidenced in the video above.
This live, late career performance composed what I found the most striking scene in the film, an artistic tour de force where Simone actually improvises a baroque etude while singing a completely different song from a whole other genre (jazz) on top of it at the same time –a spur of the moment, one-person cultural mash-up that (according to the film) astonished no less of a genius than Miles Davis.