Little Girl Blue, released in 1957, was Nina Simone’s first recording, originally issued on the Bethlehem label. Backed by bassist Jimmy Bond and Albert “Tootie” Heath, it showcases her ballad voice as one of mystery and sensuality and showcases her up-tempo jazz style with authority and an enigmatic down-home feel that is nonetheless elegant. The album also introduced a fine jazz pianist. Simone was a solid improviser who never strayed far from the blues. Check the opener, her reading of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” which finger-pops and swings while keeping the phrasing deep-blue. It is contrasted immediately with one of the — if not the — definitive reads of Willard Robison’s steamy leave-your-lover ballad “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” The title track, written by Rodgers & Hart, features “Good King Wenceslas” as a classical prelude to one of the most beautiful pop ballads ever written. It is followed immediately by the funky swing in “Love Me or Leave Me” with a smoking little piano solo in the bridge where Bachmeets Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons.
Leon Johnson has spent his share of time in airports. Growing up in a veritable Civil Rights dynasty, the now Indianapolis-based multi-instrumentalist and composer traveled frequently as a child, [...]