Nina Simone: Love Me Or Leave Me


Love Me or Leave Me


Nina Simone (vocals, piano)


Let It All Out (Phillips 600802)

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Nina Simone (vocals, piano),

Rudy Stevenson (guitar), Lisle Atkinson (bass), Bobby Hamilton (drums)


Composed by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn


Recorded: New York City, Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 1965


Rating: 87/100 (learn more)

Although Simone has received not one, but two compilations in the Verve Jazz Masters series, she was not really a jazz singer. As eclectic as they come, she sang folk, folk opera, art songs, spirituals, soul, standards, jazz, and, of course, songs of protest and social commentary that as Duke Ellington might say were--like her--"beyond category." Also, she'd usually accompany herself on piano in a restless, fluctuating style encompassing jazz, blues, and classical music. Simone's Let It All Out album is typically all over the map program-wise, but the inclusion of "Mood Indigo," "Don't Explain," "Little Girl Blue," "This Year's Kisses," and "Love Me or Leave Me" make the case for her as a jazz singer—if not a totally committed or natural one.

Simone sang "Love Me or Leave Me" on her first-ever gig in 1954 at a bar in Atlantic City, where she also adopted her stage name. Whether or not she incorporated her classical training at Juilliard into her treatment of the tune back then, she certainly does so on this 1965 recording. The singer's Bach-tinged piano intro gives way to her rather Broadway/cabaret execution of the lyrics, with a forced sounding, rushed attempt to swing. Her well-played piano solo reignites the Bach focus of her intro in a Jacques Loussier manner that only appears ready to break out into true jazz flight at its very end. Simone's vocal reprise continues her showy approach, and she now also utilizes an off-putting, exaggerated vibrato at times. An obviously prearranged, jazzy instrumental tag by the group doesn't quite save the day. Simone sang a better version of "Love Me or Leave Me" in 1957 on her first session, Little Girl Blue. One could make the argument that she was a better "jazz singer" early on than she was in later years, if you compare examples of tunes she recorded more than once in her career.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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