My favorite Billie recording is “Live at Storyville”, an out of print vinyl album that I found in a discount bin when I was age 16. I played that lp until the scratches were louder than the music coming out of the grooves. There is always a strong reaction to great art: you either love it or hate it. In Billie’s case, I loved it. Her singing grabbed my attention, stood me on my ear, and got me thinking outside the box. She was a true original. She swung like mad. She bled her heart out with raw emotion. She dug deep into her well of joy and pain until both were undeniably palpable. That edgy, wiry voice was well-suited to her horn-like phrasing. She had a knack for convincingly hammering home a lyric by repeating a single note through several measures of chord changes with such impeccable musicianship that it sounded effortless and natural and right. Her singing style influenced greats like Anita O’Day, Peggy Lee, and countless others. Billie was the ebodiment of a jazz vocalist: intelligent, free and swinging.
Dina Blade, vocalist
Seattle, Wa. USA
As I was sitting on a stool singing for swimmers recently at the Rainier Beach pool (you’ve heard of “Birth of the cool”? Welcome to “Birth of the pool”), I was observing all the different age groups, colors, shapes and sizes of the patrons, and digging the whole scene. The word “LIFEGUARD” was printed in 7 different languages! What a treat for me it was to have tiny children come up and wave, clap or dance, and there was one lady in a shower cap bobbing in time to the music like a grinning mushroom when we honored her request of “God Bless the Child”. Afterward, when several women in saris smiled and thanked the band as we were on our way out the door, I felt very honored to be part of something that was able to transcend language barriers and make someone’s day a little lighter.
The “Go-To Girl” for Love Songs
I sing songs that were mostly written in the 1930’s and 40’s. Every year around Valentine’s Day, to my surprise and delight, my calendar thankfully fills up with requests for concerts of love songs from that era. A typical day of performances might look like this: I will sing for an hour long set at a ladies’ luncheon, followed by an all-ages concert at a local public library, break for dinner and wardrobe change, then end the day swinging with my quartet in a jazz club or at a dinner-dance. This may sound exhausting, but it’s more like a vacation. As I deliver each song designed to carry the audience away on a magic carpet of melody and wordplay, the transcendental power of this wonderful music never fails to relax and delight me.
This year I did 12 shows. It was a fantastic run, and I got to sleep in my own bed and see my family besides. On this latest local “tour” of love songs, I witnessed grown men cry as the lyric moved them, as well as two different male audience members reach for their wallets during “Big Spender”. I saw a toothless guy grin widely with such joy as I sang to him that his face will forever be imprinted in my memory. People blushed when they told me the names of their first “crush”, even if it was over 70 years ago! In general, it was great practice at working many kinds of rooms, but mostly the greatness, sweetness and depth of this music is a powerful tool for connection. I even learned something about technique, finding my way around the highest note in “My Funny Valentine” which I never used to be able to sing the way I wanted to, but finally today I found the right combination of air and shape to make it work suitably. Success!
My repertoire reflects a time when songwriters went to their offices every day and, with a high level of caring and craftsmanship, churned out songs that were mostly about falling in and out of love. Many of these melodies found their way into our psyches, and we hum and whistle them even if we don’t know the words. During a performance, I watch as people reach for each others’ hands or put their arms around one another. Something stirs inside them and they smile, or wipe away a tear as the lyrics unfold to reveal the emotional landscape that is the human condition: longing, euphoria, pathos, lust, and humor are all topics covered in the course of exploring that weighted goldmine of a theme: love. We come in all shapes and sizes, why not love?