Niki King at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, Highlands, Scotland
On Friday the 29th of May 2009 at Eden Court, Inverness, the billing for the concert that evening read “The Billie Holiday Song Book – Niki King, following on the 14th of May in Edinburgh, thus continuing through Aberdeen, St Andrews, Perth, ending the former Perrier Jazz Vocalist of the year Scottish singer’s tour in Pitlochry, on the 24th of October at its Festival Theatre. There now.
Born on Wednesday the 9th of April 1915 in Baltimore, USA, “Lady Day” as Blues jazz singer Billie Holiday was universally known, lived for 44 years, her short torturous, much segregated life of drug addiction, and early death is well documented.
The Niki King Concert tour was a celebratory tribute of the Billie Holiday Songbook related in a song, storytelling, usage manner on the 50th year of her death, for which millions of Holiday’s fans, past and present would vouch in accord, as was clearly shown by her packed audience attending the Court’s well designed comfortable One Touch Theatre that evening.
An authoritative King, with impressive confidence, opened her concert in a stately, distinguished manner that set the scene for a panegyric show that turned out to be far greater than expectations; after all, what she was about was of no mean task.
Songster Niki King finds the late jazz singer Billie Holiday very inspiring; despite all that befell her, and thought that she was truly unique in what she did under the tremendous strain and worry that she had to endure during her tragic working life of prostitution, prohibition and racial tension throughout America.
Not to take or make any diminution of explanation away from Niki that the essential ingredients of famous singers are to have a sound awareness of the lyrics of their songs they choose to sing, but in the case of King that evening in Eden Court, her command, interpretation, dedication of capturing the themes, and deep understanding of the “Lady Day” songs are worthy of exceptional applause.
There are still living millions aware that those two song artistes’ style of singing is miles apart. Niki has voiced that Billie’s vocals were, and is unique - with the King style of singing, my impression is, that it is well articulated, mainly high pitched - vying among the current modern, imitational American faked twanged lingoes, sadly adopted in place of the once forgone beautiful dialect of her native Scotland’s, ironically, today steeped in recession or to some a crippling Depression, due to an inept government’s miss-handling of England’s financial system in freeing its Bank of the requisite controls.
The theatre audience appreciation of her style of singing was of an uproarious acceptance.
The Niki King Quartet opens with an exquisite concert pianist style of playing on the Eden Court Grand by Paul Harrison on the Holiday number Don’t Explain, composed when Billie was working in L. A. making plenty of money, and, when her “MAN” Jimmy Coler, returned home one morning with lipstick on his collar.
I’m jumping over Lover Come Back To Me, as King sings Good Morning Heartache - unlike nearly all of her second set in her own pitch - with a slight - fine and mellow - tinge to it - Billie style, and then, with an out of kilter number, Niki relates to her audience introducing the song My Man that could have been Coler, Levy, or several more with the sound of a beautiful pianist’ solo to the fore, Niki's singing of it ends on a long held note in – what a difference a day makes – for ever more …….!
There follows a nice string bass opening on Funny That Way in the closing of the first set with Willow Weeps For Me – King having articulated the truth and hope – bravery and strength – of her guiding light in voice - her own way, does so with flying colours.
Given the title ‘Lady’ by her envious female pears, Lester Young a close friend, took the day out of Holiday, adding it to lady to become “Lady Day” who sang with Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, and many famous jazz musicians of the period including Glenn Miller, Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald.
A drum roll opens the second set for Niki King and her trio as she scat sings a la Ella fashion. Moving on through a medley 'I Don’t Know Why, But I’m Feeling so Sad, I Want to Try Something I Never Had', my ramblings from famous Holiday tunes.
No let up from King as she gives us I Love You Porgy, Lover Man by Jimmy Davis - Oh! where have you been, it was Now or Never with the keys of the studio Grand inviting Niki to Tell Us More about covering the Waterfront onwards to all about the political comment of the day, the tearful Strange Fruit a song of the lynching of Blacks that became Billie’s personal protest, created from a poem by Lewis Allen well accepted by the Downtown, Café Society clientele.
The still atmosphere in the theatre was portent moments following the last number prior to God Bless the Child (that’s got its own) lending a joyous spell to wipe away the tears of the Billie Holiday aficionado audience.
Between 1933 and 1944 Billie Holiday recorded making famous over 200 songs. Example, Night and Day with Teddy Wilson on piano being her first on ending a prison sentence, and a sell-out Carnegie Hall Concert, judging by the Niki King Quartet, Eden Court performance, this jazz music theatre show can easily run for years to come.
Kings Jazz Review
Tuesday the 14th of July 2009