Lady sings the blues, the fortunate convergence of cultures and musical traditions

By D.K. Ross

Jazz, like current-day San Miguel, has a mixed pedigree and deep roots in other cultures. Beginning with the music traditions of both Africa and Europe and incorporating music from other genres and cultures, jazz has always been a moving target. Jazz is restless. It’s been said that it won’t stay put and it never will.

Jazz Concert
Tribute to Billie Holiday
Thu, Sep 20, 7:30pm
Shelter Theater
Vincente Guerrero 4
Tickets 120 pesos

The same could be said about a woman many knew as “Lady Day.” Billie Holiday is a name familiar to most and revered by aficionados of jazz, blues,and the elegant era of big bands, swing, torch singers, and the smoky vocals of the 30s, 40s and 50s of the last century.

By the mid-30s, jazz was making serious inroads into the popular culture. And in the changing face of jazz and blues, no female vocalist was bigger than Holiday, garnering Esquire Magazine’s award for Best Leading Female Vocalist four years running from 1944 to 1947.

Holiday pioneered a vocal style that had an immediate impact on the direction of jazz and her creativity, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, changed forever the landscape of phrasing and tempo for vocalists. As Holiday said: “No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.”

Although some thought her vocal range limited, her popularity was founded in the depth and feeling she brought to her songs. Her fans often felt Holiday had lived each song, and in many cases, she had.

The great lady had a difficult life, her early years marked by an absent mother, her later years marred by drug and alcohol abuse. Her life and times were chronicled in her autobiography “Lady Sings the Blues” that was developed for the big screen in 1972. Sadly, she passed away in 1959 at the tender age of 44.

In 1987, Holiday was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Her many other awards include six songs inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (one as recently as 2010) and four albums that received Grammy Awards for Best Historical Album.

On September 20, a tribute to Billie Holiday will be held. Several of Lady Day’s top hits will be celebrated including the Grammy Award winning “God Bless The Child,” “Lover Man” and “Them There Eyes.”

This concert of blues and jazz standards from the mid-20th century will continue the jazz tradition of bringing together culturally and geographically diverse performers and listeners.

The tribute will be presented by a local trio, truly a cross-blending of cultures that includes a Canadian vocalist (Kate Fowler), an American saxophonist (David Ziff) and a Mexican guitarrista (Rolando Gotes).

Fowler’s voice has been called sultry and her rendering of Holiday’s classics described as poignant and captivating. Gotes is an accomplished guitar player who recently moved to San Miguel from Torreón in the northern part of Mexico. Ziff’s big band experience shines through in his interpretation of the buttery tones of Lester Young and completes this tribute evening of rich, warm, soulful jazz and blues. You can go “glam” and dressed for the era or just jeans. Either way, don’t miss this celebration of Lady Day’s contribution to our musical landscape.

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