Tuesday, July 27, 2021

1960s anger and disillusionment fuel hope

Singer Synia Carroll celebrated the life and music of the late, great Nina Simone on Monday, July 26 in Sarasota FL with a concert fueled by the High Priestess of Soul’s blend of anger, disillusionment and passion – and Carroll’s optimism for a better day.

Synia Carroll
The Nina on my Mind … and I’m Feelin’ Good! show at Florida Studio Theatre’s cozy Court Cabaret in downtown Sarasota teamed Carroll with five of the region’s ace jazz musicians: trumpeter James Suggs, pianist John O’Leary, bassist Brandon Robertson, percussionist Patrick Hernly and drummer/musical director Paul Gavin. They also backed her at St. Petersburg’s Palladium Theater three nights earlier.

Carroll & Co. dug deep into the Simone repertoire for the full house crowd in attendance. As Simone’s artful and activist legacies inspired and required, the night’s music ranged from angry and passionate to teasing and joyful. The lyrics, coupled with Carroll’s powerful delivery and stories, underscored that the pain and frustration of the civil rights movement that Nina Simone sang about in the 1960s remain today.

James Suggs, Synia Carroll

The material included “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl,” “Be My Husband,” “I Loves You, Porgy” from “Porgy and Bess” (with a sublime piano solo from O’Leary), and a thundering take on “Sinner Man.”

The first set concluded with “Why? (The King of Love is Dead),” which Simone’s bass player, Gene Taylor, wrote right after he heard about the death of Martin Luther King Jr. It wound down with Carroll rhetorically asking “Why does it have relevance in 2021, when it was written 50 years ago?” as the band backed her with a few bars from “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Paul Gavin

Synia Carroll

The second set opened with Gavin’s solo take on drummer Art Blakey’s “Freedom Rider” and the band’s exhilarating cover of a Carroll concert staple, Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue.” These complementary choices set the tone for the remainder of this Simone-powered evening. 

“Hush a Bye” and “Brown Baby” set up the frustration-inspired Simone classic “Mississippi Goddam,” and “Four Women,” which Simone wrote about different African-American stereotypes. The night concluded with the optimism-prevails lyrics of “I’m Feelin’ Good."

“Even in the face of reality, this evening is about hope,” Carroll said. “Hope is my music. Learn from the past, acknowledge what needs to be done to make things better, and get to work. Hope is why I’m here tonight. We can all make a difference."

O'Leary, Robertson, Carroll, Hernly, Suggs, Gavin

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