From The Desk Of Elizabeth And The Catapult: “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” By Nina Simone

Keepsake (Compass), Elizabeth Ziman’s fourth record, began when her landlord was considering jacking up the rent and she had to move across the street into a tiny apartment, far away from her recording gear and the baby grand piano on which she loved to write. Or it began when she started keeping a dream journal, writing down snippets of visions in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning on awakening. Or it began when she started leafing through old journals and diaries, little half-finished snatches of lyrics and couplets and freewriting, and tried to see if she could shape them through to some kind of completion. Well, who’s to say where anything begins or ends? But for Ziman, who records as Elizabeth And The Catapult, Keepsake was definitely a milestone record—the end of one thing, and the beginning of something else. Ziman will be guest editing all week. Read our new feature on her.

Ziman: This performance from the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976 breaks my heart and brain into a million pieces. It’s somehow devastating and hopeful at the same time. Nina has the ability to encapsulate an entire spectrum of emotions and the complexities of her life in the span of a single song. What first drew me to Nina was her classical background—she’s really a classical virtuoso first with jazz influences, so she can improvise like the great jazz pianists of her day or delve into counterpoint, improvising a Bach invention on the fly. I’ve tried to do the same with Chopin waltzes—but it really makes my brain hurt. The most incredible thing to me about Nina’s artistry is how she sings and performs with such fearlessness and dagger-like concentration. Her words are always clear as a bell and meant to be chewed upon. You know she’s always thinking about the story, the experience and the politics behind the words she’s singing. From her biography, she obviously had a terribly difficult life as a black woman in America and never misses an opportunity to starkly show what that experience is like, so we can all feel her pain closely, and learn from it. A beautiful artist and all around human, Nina Simone.