Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Billie Holiday Project 3.0 - a few thoughts...

although brad learmonth of harlem stages instigated all of this with an invitation for me to fuse billie holiday and zora neale hurston and perform at lenox lounge for the very first harlem jazz shrines, i felt compelled to take it further when i read zora's newly discovered harlem based short stories. i think farrah griffin knew what she was sparking up when she gave them to me. they didn't just speak to me -- they felt like some other part of me that i didn't know was there. i knew those people, i recognized them. all of me fell into those pages and got lost, wandering in and out of their lives.

it was a beautiful moment of discovery, to glimpse more of zora -- someone whose work is so fresh and unexpected and new with every read. these newly discovered stories haven't seen the light of day in more than 70 years. all of a sudden, the literary world shifts and realizes that perhaps they didn't really know her as well as they thought they did. if they are ever published and widely distributed, the rest of the world will, too.

i began toying with the idea of doing an album of billie holiday's rare sides when i started collecting various box sets of her work awhile ago and unhinging her earlier material. there was a ton of it. i already read and researched enough to know that she was more than the torchy, brooding victim in a gown at the mercy of a heroin needle with a heavily scented flower in her hair. everyone seems to recognize that image instantly and cling to it in this sometimes really insufferable way. like she couldn't possibly be anything else. in those box sets, i heard everything else -- ambivalence about love, so much hope and yearning, a good time girl and yes, sometimes even a sunshiny disposition that positively bounced with joy. great tunes, too. where was the tragic victim? why hadn't i ever met this billie holiday before?

to tell you the truth, i don't really listen to jazz vocalists. what i mean is, i certainly know who they are and what they sound like. i've done my homework, extensively. however -- when it comes to growing and refining my sound and my style, i listen to horn players because frankly, that's what those jazz vocalists did. and then i reach for my own ideas in the moment. louis armstrong sounds like a horn when he sings. he's not imititating another singer that's imitating a horn. he's not imitating anyone. but i digress.

i created the billie holiday project because i wanted to make the kind of art that i'd like to see in the world. i want my blackgrrl stories to be told -- and judging by the sold out run at the apollo theater this weekend, there's someone out there that would like to see them, too.

i hope that this will be the first of many performance moments -- for this idea and others. please stay tuned.


AJ Muhammad said...

I have a few thoughts too! The Billie Holiday Project was wonderful! The setting, the staging, the acting, the dancing, the singing, the music, the band....was nothing short of fabulous baby! It was so refreshing to seeing veteran artists who are all triple and quadruple threats STILL surprise us with their fabulous-ity! In the battle of the sexes I don't know who won: the women or the men. Charles and Keith were phenomenal and so were you and La Francesca flashing her legs to Keith to distract his character during the second story!!!! Love it! Love to you, Queen, Keith, Charles and Francesca (the latter of the three are friends in my head since I haven't met them personally but are big fans of their work)! Talk about a DREAM CAST. You all must take this show on the road right now! When APAP comes to town next January, if you don't perform the show in front of arts presenters from across the world, I don't know what I'll do, except say to keep on working on the show by adding 1 last story to seal the deal! I always wanted to see Spunk, if they can revive everything else under the sun, but Spunk then this took Zora's stories in a whole 'nother direction. Here's to seeing The Billie Holiday Project again and soon!!!! We demand an encore!!!!

AJ Muhammad said...

And a few more is so fantastic that you worked with Francesca on this project because as you know she is just like you. Nobody can put her in a box because she does it all just like you. She is an example of a multidisciplinary artist who has been quietly doing her thing: acting, Broadway, singing, choreographing, filmmaking. The is the whole package!!!! She even has her choreography in the repertory of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater!!!! Her talent knows no bounds and I know that you two will take on the world... I can even see you all taking the Billie Holiday Project to Europe and beyond!!!!

Queen Esther said...

Thanks for your support, AJ. It's so nice when dreams come true, isn't it? Those shows at the Apollo were wonderful. I hope to have some really great news for you soon.

And yes, I'm working on the album! Just remember: a lot of what you've mentioned can't happen without money - and I don't really have any. ;)