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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Dinah Washington

Yesterday, I did a post on Etta James and I promised I would write about Dinah today, and that led me to start a series of posts about women in music I listen to. Up next are Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and some others. So if you’re into that, make sure you check the blog every now and then. Let’s get right to it.

Born Ruth Lee Jones in 1924, Dinah Washington was discovered at a talent show at the age of 15, by Louis Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser. Since then, she has been praised greatly as a singer of both blues and  jazz and critics have given her as much credit as they have given Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Listen to her for half an hour and you’ll know what they were talking about.
She sang a lot of torch songs - songs about unrequited love, about loving someone even after they’ve found someone else, songs filled with sorrow and pain. In a way she could relate to those songs, since she had plenty of experiences to draw from. She was married 7 times, and after writing about Etta James and Billie Holiday, it almost sounds like I’m repeating myself. It’s the same story all over again.
In 1959, she hit the pop market with the hit song What a Difference a Day Makes and while the sound of her music changed quite a bit, her singing stayed as strong as ever.
In 1963, she died of a combination of diet pills and alcohol. She was 39 years old.

I love her singing and I listen to Mad About The Boy - The Best Of Dinah Washington at least twice a month (in addition to other Dinah’s albums). I definitely recommend it, and I think it’s actually a nice way to start getting into jazz, for anyone out there, who might be interested. Her singing is nothing short of phenomenal. Her smoky, raspy, salty, rich voice, full of vibrato is just a joy to listen to. Even though she sounds completely different to Billie Holiday, I think you can actually hear a lot of Billie in Dinah’s singing.
The best album Dinah Washington ever recorded though, is, in my opinion, Dinah Jams. It’s a jam session recorded in a studio in Los Angeles with big jazz cats like Clifford Brown and Max Roach. Here are two songs which perfectly show her amazing talent (the album itself sounds a bit different than these two songs, but I wanted to post them, because they represent Dinah better). In the second song, pay attention to lovely piano backing and the perfect saxophone accompaniment.

I love the lyrics of Crazy He Calls me, a song made popular by Billie Holiday. Although Billie Holiday is my favourite female singer of all time, I think Dinah delivers this song better.

I say I'll move the mountains
And I'll move the mountains
If he wants them out of the way
Crazy he calls me
Sure, I'm crazy
Crazy in love, I say

I say I'll go through fire
And I'll go through fire
As he wants it, so it will be
Crazy he calls me
Sure, I'm crazy
Crazy in love, you see

Like the wind that shakes the bough
He moves me with a smile
The difficult I'll do right now
The impossible will take a little while
I say I'll care forever
And I mean forever
If I have to hold up the sky
Crazy he calls me
Sure, I'm crazy
Crazy in love am I
I love the witty contrast in the song. I feel like when she sings 'Crazy he calls me, sure I'm crazy, crazy in love' he and she are talking about the same thing, but seeing it differently. They're both talking about the same relationship, they're both using the same word, yet they don't have the same view on it. He sees crazy as are-you-out-of-your-mind crazy, it's not good to be this way crazy and she understands it as 'I'm so deeply in love, it makes me a bit crazy', but a good kind of crazy. And anyone can understand it that way actually. You could see 'I say I'll go through fire and I'll go through fire, as he wants it, so it will be' as something only a person not thinking straight would do, and it's not sane. Or you could be more romantic and see it as an inspirational thing and admire her deep love for him.
In the end, both kinds of crazy are actually the same thing, it just depends on how you look at it and what you have to gain from your perspective; if you see this crazy as something wonderful as she does, then you can do the impossible 'The difficult I'll do right now, the impossible will take a little while', otherwise it's likely that the impossible will stay impossible. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be a romantic and do the impossible.

What do you think about the two songs? What are your favourite Dinah Washington songs? Comment away.

Next time, I’ll write about another wonderful female musician. Until then, everyone.

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