Cassandra Wilson on Billie Holiday

I recently got word that Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, has signed singer Cassandra Wilson. Wilson’s first album for the label will be “Coming Forth By Day,” which a press release described as “a musical homage to legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday” and a “showcase for contemporary yet timeless standards associated with Lady Day.”
Wilson is hardly the first singer to pay such tribute. (My own favorite album along such lines is Dee Dee Bridgewater‘s 2010 CD, “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee” (DDB Records/Emarcy).
Yet Wilson, whose CD is slated for Spring 2015, in time for the centennial of Holiday’s birth, will, I’m certain, have her own distinctive take. (As readers of this blog know, she’s among my favorite musicians. I haven’t heard the music yet. But the news prompted me to dig out a somewhat long soliloquy Wilson gave me about Holiday, when I was writing a piece about Holiday years ago, that began with my asking, “When do you remember first hearing Billie Holiday?” It hints at where she’ll be coming from when she sings these songs: Continue reading “Cassandra Wilson on Billie Holiday”

When Cassandra Wilson Turned on Her Blue Light

The rapper Nas will be touring this summer, performing in full the material from his breakthrough 1994 recording, “Illmatic,” 20 years after its initial release.
Blue Note Records, through its new parent company, Universal Music, has released an remastered and expanded edition of singer Cassandra Wilson’s “Blue Light ‘Till Dawn.” The new CD bears a sticker that says “20th anniversary edition,” which is sort of a fudge, mathwise—the CD originally came out in November, 1993. Yet that doesn’t discount the fact that, like Nas’s album, Wilson’s was a game-changer for artists, listeners and music labels. (Wilson’s U.S. tour, on which she’ll perform “Blue Light” material, begins May 3.)
There are attitudes and aesthetics that might link Wilson’s and Nas’s 1990s achievements. There’s also blood.
Nas’s dad, Olu Dara, a musician I’ve written about several times, played brilliant and concise cornet on Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail,” on Wilson’s “Blue Light.” He’s from Natchez, Miss., not too far from Jackson, where Wilson was born and raised.
Dara lent Wilson more than just his distinctive tone: As she tol told me in an interview for Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal piece, Wilson gained from him this lesson—”to honor and not hide where I’m from.”
Part of Wilson’s awakening involved picking up the guitar she’d hidden in fear that “the ‘jazz police’ would come looking for it.” That one was a Martin acoustic. I like the photo above, because it shows her playing the red Fender she played recently for new project, Black Sun. Continue reading “When Cassandra Wilson Turned on Her Blue Light”