Thursday, March 16, 2006

Celebrating the life of Connie Simmons

There once was a time when I was a nightowl in DC and would peruse all the jazz and blues clubs in town, sometimes 2 or 3 in one night. Thanks to Chris Grasso's revitalization of the Henley Park Hotel jazz program (which was discontinued a few months ago), I had the pleasure to hear such greats as Dick Smith, Sam Smith, Sharon Clark, and many others. And through that, I discovered one of DC's best kept jazz secrets, Connie Simmons.

Connie would often come and sit obediently in the audience when Dick Smith was the featured singer. She would tap her feet to the swinging beat and swing her body back and forth to embrace the lovely music. And then during the second set, Dick Smith would hand his microphone to her and she would start belting out "All of Me" and the whole place would go crazy! I mean, she would light the place up with sparks and fire. And in just one song, she had the ability to move everybody in the joint.

Dick Smith was always generous in introducing her as a "legendary jazz diva who sang with Art Tatum." And she was, indeed!

Connie passed away last month, and it is my regret I never heard her sing one last time (due to the closing of the Blue Bar). I heard Connie 3 or 4 times and each time I had a smile on my face. While you couldn't expect an 89-year-old lady to be consistently on key or on beat, Connie carried something special in her singing, that is, the nostalgic feeling I discussed in my previous blog entry. Vince Evans says, "regardless of range, technique and all that, when I heard her sing 'All of Me,' there was a swing that was so deep -- it was like Redd Foxx, Scatman Crothers, Dexter Gordon, that old phrasing, from the gut."

Yeah, that old phrasing....

Marc Fisher of the Washington Post was kind enough to dedicate a fine written piece to Connie, celebrating a life full of hope and dreams and music. Let us not forget people like Connie who has brought so much joy and energy to our lives. Let's go out living out lives to the fullest, and swing hard!

At 89, Connie Simmons could swing. Can you?

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