Nnenna Freelon

Released August 23, 2005

Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2006

YouTube: https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_klM-UOlO7RcHQ2QbjpBGs0uSXXqGBpZwE

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/07fYLHe2Jcb52WZx08J83e?si=_6tYz1lORMqht9ACyMQCCA


Traditional tribute albums normally feature one artist paying tribute to another in an attempt to evoke their legendary forebear. But when Nnenna Freelon set her vocal sights on songs associated with Billie Holiday, she determined that she wanted to emulate the spirit, rather than the sound, of the great “Lady Day.” Freelon’s sixth Concord Jazz release, Blueprint of a Lady – Sketches of Billie Holiday, coincides with the 90th anniversary of Holiday’s birth, yet the six-time GRAMMY® nominee presents a moving and uniquely contemporary homage — a distinctively refreshing take on the legendary jazz singer’s firmly established contributions to music.

Blueprint of a Lady – Sketches of Billie Holiday is lovingly comprised of 15 tracks, featuring boldly fresh interpretations of tunes strongly associated with Billie Holiday. Listen to “God Bless The Child,” “Don’t Explain,” “Them There Eyes,” “Strange Fruit” (sung in a medley with a Latin-inflected “Willow Weep For Me”), or the reggae-infused version of “All of Me,” and you reach the inescapable conclusion that deep admiration, not imitation, is Freelon’s inspired intention. On Blueprint of a Lady – Sketches of Billie Holiday Holiday’s feisty spirit and independence, even her selection and interpretation of signature tunes, are presented against the backdrop of her time and ours, thus assuming new significance and traveling beyond mere tribute to powerful musical statement. “Billie Holiday really sang what she had to say in her own way,” says Freelon. “That’s one of the things that was so impressive about her; she was a survivor, and had an absolutely brilliant, innovative concept of her own.”

Track Listing:

1. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (Lorenz Hart / Richard Rodgers) 4:18

2. What a Little Moonlight Can Do (Harry Woods) 5:13

3. Don’t Explain (Billie Holiday / Arthur Herzog, Jr.) 4:03

4. God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday / Arthur Herzog, Jr.) 5:21

5. Strange Fruit 2:20

6. Willow Weep For Me (Ann Ronell) 2:52

7. Balm in Gilead 4:49

8. Them There Eves (Maceo Pinkard / Doris Tauber / William Tracey) 5:09

9. Only You Will Know (Nnenna Freelon / Brandon McCune) 3:41

10. You’ve Changed (Bill Carey / Carl Fischer) 5:24

11. Now or Never (Billie Holiday) 2:55

12. Lover Man (Ram Ramirez / James Sherman) 4:14

13. Left Alone (Billie Holiday / Mal Waldron) 5:02

14. Little Brown Bird (Interlude) (Nnenna Freelon / Brandon McCune) 1:32

15. All of Me (Gerald Marks / Seymour Simons) 5:53


Nnenna Freelon: vocals

Brandon McCune: piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B-3, trumpet

Wayne Batchelor: acoustic bass

Kinah Boto: drums

Beverly Botsford: percussion

Christian Scott: trumpet (1,2,8)

Mary Fettig: alto and baritone saxes: alto flute (1,2)

Dave Ellis (1,2,12) and Doug Lawrence (10,11): tenor sax

Julian Lage (3,8,11,15) and Andre Bush (9, duet with Nnenna): guitar

Jessica Ivry: cello (3,8)

Recorded March, 2005 – April, 2005, at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA

Produced by Nnenna Freelon and Nick Phillips


Nnenna Freelon and Billie Holiday have many things in common. Both possess a unique vocal timbre that’s instantly identifiable. Both have worked with superb accompanists who honor the jazz tradition admirably. And both interpret songs with the kind of deep feeling that endears each performance to our hearts. We can’t help falling in love with their performances.
With her sixth Concord release, which comes highly recommended, Freelon sings the songs that Billie Holiday left us. “Don’t Explain” and “God Bless the Child” have become world treasures. Blueprint of a Lady also includes Holiday’s “Left Alone” and “Now or Never,” as well as many of the songs that she made her own.
With Freelon is a group of veteran jazz artists who give her album a welcome presence. Tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis, trumpeter Christian Scott, and flutist Mary Fettig add stellar musical partnerships to the program. Freelon’s long-term quartet of Brandon McCune, Wayne Bachelor, Kinah Boto, and Beverly Botsford provide cohesive accompaniment that serves as an intuitive accompaniment for her vocal offerings.
“Them There Eyes” introduces a natural quality to the program through cello and guitar as Freelon takes the song in a unique direction. From the beginning of her career, it’s always been about singing the songs her way. Fresh and alive, her performances carry more than music to her audience. She sweeps you away with her ideas, which float around the room and become crystal clear through her interpretations. “You’ve Changed” is one of those sad songs that makes you reflect upon your relationship(s) with mixed emotions. With saxophonist Doug Lawrence completing the conversation, Freelon administers a prescription for the blues. “Lover Man” waltzes slowly in a soulful mood while McCune fills the room with contemporary textures through Fender Rhodes and Hammond B-3 organ. Ellis wraps his tenor around the melody with the same kind of emotional presence that Freelon conveys so emphatically. Like Billie Holiday, she delivers the song casually with a matter-of-fact awareness. Life holds few surprises for those who know what’s going on.
“All of Me” closes the program with the sounds of a new generation of hipsters. Freelon uses this occasion to remind us that times have changed. We still hold on to the tradition of jazz and blues, but we’ve got to forge ahead and create. Her interpretation is exciting and it holds the cool passion that Billie Holiday so generously explained; but it demonstrates a new and different way of enjoying the music.

Jim Santella (AllAboutJazz)