American singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist Nina Simone has left quite a legacy on the music scene and the overall cultural consciousness. Even if you aren’t a regular listener of her music, you’ve undoubtedly heard her songs in some capacity. With songs like ‘Feeling Good’, ‘I Put a Spell On You’, and ‘Ain’t Got No, I Got Life’, Simone’s legacy is etched into the annals of history, no matter your age or music preference.
Getting her start by playing the piano at a nightclub in Atlantic City, Nina Simone came from humble beginnings and blossomed into a jazz icon, launching her career as a vocalist simply by being told in the nightclub that she would have to sing to her own accompaniment. From here, Simone went on to have a career where she would record more than 40 albums between 1958 and 1974 and earn more than 15 Grammy nominations.
By the 1980s, Simone was living between a variety of different locales, and had moved to a slightly different take on her performance style. Although much more aloof and stoic in her younger years, her later jazz club performances often involved a shift towards more engagement with her audiences. Although she lived in Liberia, Barbados, and Switzerland, the 1980s were the years when she began regularly performing at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, England.
Ronnie Scott’s is a club with its own history and legacy. Opened by musicians Ronnie Scott and Pete King in 1959 in London’s Soho district, they created their own record label, hosted a swath of famous musicians over the years, and are still in operation today.
Musicians like Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Rollins, Yusef Lateef, Dizzie Gillespie, and even Jimi Hendrix have performed there — the latter even giving his last public performance at the venue.
The regular collaboration between Nina Simone and Ronnie Scott’s is nothing short of iconic, and although video footage wasn’t readily available for many of Ronnie Scott’s historic acts throughout its early opperating years, the 1980s saw an improvement in the availability of technology, allowing not only for specific songs to be recorded, but for entire performances to make their way into the digital sphere.
This is why we have the pleasure of viewing videos like the hour-long recording of her 1985 performance at the club, a show in which she sings a variety of her iconic songs while accompanying herself on the piano. Even in the subtle moments, her brilliance shines through in this engaging performance.
Starting off the performance with ‘God God God’, Simone sets the pace for intrigue right away. Even when she’s looking down, entranced, and clearly focused, it almost makes the performance all the more enchanting.
She hits on plenty of other songs throughout this nearly hour-long video, including ‘The Other Woman’, “Mississippi Goddamn’, ‘I Got Life’, ‘If Only You Knew’, and ‘Just to Know that I’m Alive’. There are even more beautiful tracks included in the video, making it the perfect sit-down watch and listen, or even something to put on in the background and return to time and time again.
Nina Simone wasn’t the only one to have a filmed performance at Ronnie Scott’s either, with other available concerts posted to Ronnie Scott’s official YouTube channel for all of the jazz lovers out there ready for more. If you’re game to watch intently, the video is certainly one to treat like a concert. Even with the footage from the 1980s and a few slightly fuzzy moments, Nina Simone is simply electrifying no matter the performance.
You can take a look at the full performance below. Whether you choose to listen in the background or park yourself before the screen like a jazz club audience member, it’s sure to be worth the hour.