Nina Simone's 1959 Debut "Little Girl Blue" Remains Timeless

Seeing the superb documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone” isn’t mandatory but you’ll so much more enjoy this astonishing debut album recorded in 1957 (but not released until 1959) that it’s highly recommended, especially if you have Netflix. You’ll sit transfixed by this exceptional woman’s remarkable and often tragic life story.

Simone was a classically trained concert pianist (Julliard) but because of the overt discrimination at the time, her career was stymied. She began playing jazz in Atlantic City and New York clubs and recorded this album at age twenty five.

The label founder Gus Wildi wisely gave Simone complete control and she produced an eclectic, sophisticated album that showcased her deft arranging, her unusual mix of jazz and classical piano playing and especially her soulful, intimate singing.

Here, and especially on Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall (Colpix/Pure Pleasure PPAN SCP 455), you always have the sensation that she’s singing to just you, so intimate is her communication and so intense is her gravitational pull.

Her piano style is at times fierce and blocky as you’d expect from a jazz artist, and at other times heavily arpeggiated and almost baroque as you’d expect from a classical musician, but at all times, Simone is deep and soulful as you’d expect from someone steeped in gospel and church music.

She’s backed by Jimmy Bond on bass and Al Heath on drums and that’s all that’s needed as she idiosyncratically covers familiar territory like “Mood Indigo”, “Don’t Smoke In Bed”, “Love Me Or Leave Me” and “Porgy”.

The recording quality is extremely high. Transparency and timbral accuracy are high points, the ‘stereo’ spread, the low point. This sounds as if it was a two track recording meant to be mixed to mono and in fact, I have a mono original that I prefer spatially, but it can’t otherwise begin to compare to this reissue’s remarkable clarity, transparency and black backgrounds.

Simone’s voice is in one channel only, the rhythm section of piano, drums and bass in the other, though there is some attempt to integrate the two in the ambience, with the drums having a “stereo” spatial quality. It’s as if the engineer in 1957 was experimenting with stereo as he went. Don’t let that stop you from buying this “must have” record.

I got my original at a garage sale. There were no records out but I asked if there were any. The woman said “yes”, but she didn’t want to sell the few she had. She didn’t own a turntable. I asked if I could see them and what she had were four records: two original Nina Simone albums and two original Sam Cooke albums on Keene!

In the end I transferred them for her to CD on the Continuum Caliburn and you can bet even digitized she’d never heard them sound that way, so it was a fair trade! That’s what’s great about records: you always remember the “back story”.

The word “unique” gets tossed around so often it loses its meaning but its correctly applied to Miss Nina Simone. She recorded for many labels including Colpix, RCA, and ran the gamut from jazz to pop to, rock to folk.

I’d hoped to do an extended feature called “Nina Simone on Record” but reality set in. That would take more time than I currently have. So if you go exploring, stay away from the Four Men With Beards reissues that are surely cut from digital and probably at CD resolution. Speakers Corner is always (or mostly) from tape as are Pure Pleasure to the best of my knowledge.

If you like this record (which you will), I can recommend forbidden fruit (Pure Pleasure/Colpix PPAN SCP 419) a double LP set consisting of the original Colpix release plus extra tracks that the reissue annotation says “the aural evidence” suggests were from the same sessions, though there’s no proof.

Interestingly, Pure Pleasure released in mono Little Girl Blue but titled “The Original…And Best of Nina Simone with a different cover. While I prefer the mix, the perspective is flat and the overall sound hard and bright. It sounds as if it was cut from an undistinguished digital file that had been dynamically compressed during digitization and sounds as if cheesy reverb was recently added. Were you to hear it compared to the Analogue Productions stereo reissue, you might at first not think it was the same recording. The emotional content of one has been stripped away,

Analogue Productions’ reissue of Little Girl Blue cut by Ryan K. Smith at Sterling Sound from the original stereo master tape, pressed at QRP on 200 gram vinyl and presented in a gatefold “Tip on” jacket is well worth the money. It’s a classic you’ll play often and enjoy every time.

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fetuso's picture

I watched that documentary on Netflix and it told an amazing story. It's obviously about Simone, but it's also about American history. We should never hide from our history, good, bad, or ugly. It's the only way to grow and I think (hope) the country has come a long way since.

Mike, I can just picture you bullying that poor old lady for her vinyl records. That's vinyl abuse if there ever was.

azmoon's picture

The doc on Netflix was good. True about the history part, in addition she was abused by her husband which had quite an effect on her also. Town Hall is a another great Nina LP.

elliotdrum's picture

My girlfriend and I went to see and hear Nina Simone at the
Troubadour in West Hollywood in 1964. She had the same band
that was on the Colpix recordings-Al Schackman guitar-Chris
White bass-Bobby Hamilton drums. Nina seemed to be quite drunk.
This did not take away from the performance but added to the
performance. The show was very strong and loose. Her performance
of Forbidden Fruit for instance was truly beyond exciting. The whole show that night was unforgettable and I believe I have close
to everything she has recorded. Great pianist and singer!
A unknown comic opened the show his name was Richard Pryor.
He had the whole audience falling off their chairs and he didn't
use any four letter words to get a laugh. (not that there is anything wrong with that). What a night!

AnalogJ's picture

I have a beautiful mono
It is deep, soulful, impactful, analog sounding. Its downside is the typical Bethlehem vinyl of the '50s, which often has a high level of vinyl hiss. Otherwise it's flawless. I didn't luck out and get it at a yard sale, but I paid $30 on EBay about 10 years ago, a reasonable sum for a NM mono original.

I'm tempted to get the reissue, but that mix makes me reluctant.

pmatt's picture

I was fortunate enough to get an original mono copy from my mom. Sadly a bit less than pristine, yet the wonderful, intimate clarity of her vocal and the crystal clear low end of this recording come through loud and clear. I also have the Four Men With Beards reissue and it's a travesty. Love how she slips into classical flourishes as she stakes out her own particular no-woman's land.

Concertkid's picture

Wonderful documentary! What would you recommend after Little Girl Blue? Do we know of the upcoming Philips Years is analog or digital? Thanks for the recommendation!

AnalogJ's picture

Pastel Blues on Philips. She made so many great records. Pastel Blues is high on my list. The last two cuts, "Strange Fruit" and "Sinnerman" are two of my favorites she has ever done.

Another one is Nina Simone At Town Hall. This one is on Colpix Records.

Concertkid's picture

Anyone heard it or seen a review. I'm afraid to pull the trigger without one!

ColoKurt's picture

Has anybody else heard distortion during the loud piano passages on this reissue? I think the rest of the record sounds great, but I've tried two different discs so far. The first one had distortion during loud passages on both sides while the second disc had the problem only on side 2, and especially on Plain Gold Ring. I'm guessing this is a pressing defect but somebody I talked to thought it might be on the original tapes.

TK's picture

I am aware of this as well. I am hoping somebody can shed some light on this. I absolutely love this album! I think it sounds fantastic. However, during the spectacular crescendo of "You'll never walk alone" the distortion is really obvious. I was going to send back the record, but for what it's worth I played a youtube video of the song and it had the distortion in the exact same way so I thought maybe that's just the way it is. Would love to hear what others have to say about this. Thanks!

ColoKurt's picture

I got a third copy of this record and the distortion is gone. I'd still like to hear from somebody knowledgeable about what type of pressing defect causes this. It's the first time I've heard it.

jazz's picture

I've got the same problem and it sounded to me as if it's just cut very hot needing a 100k turntable for playback

ChrisM's picture

The top high frequencies are hitting the wall : harsh and sibiliant especially when Miss Simone sings the "s", the cymbals are lost too , I was in the mood to throw my turntable thru the window, fortunately I red the comments above. Very disapointed about this record, I bought it in the 2x45' version, the sound is really not what I expected, and the mix with the voice only on the left channel is a bit odd. I think the mono version is the One, but not this one.

vinylrules's picture

So I put this album away until today when I decided to give it another go while evaluating an incredible world-class (in my humble opinion) phono stage I am trying out - and to my amazement - I discovered that what the problem is, is that this album was cut with inverse polarity!

Seriously. Try inverting absolute polarity if you have a line stage that can do this. If not, reverse speaker cable polarity *please note: on both speakers* and hear the soundstage snap back into place and sound become far more natural. True story.

P.S: You're welcome :-)