A Fine and Mellow Valentine


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Empowerment and Love 2.                                               

(You won’t make much sense of this valentine blog unless you watch Billie Holiday’s 8-minute performance with a group of the best of jazzmen from the 1950s. Also, pay close attention to a voice over she does that tells you exactly what is coming.)

What the blues seems to be able to do like no other musical form is to wrap the joy of loving around the pain of loving. If that is so, then what Billie Holiday and a gang of awesome male horn players do with “Fine and Mellow” in the 1957 CBS live performance of “The Sounds of Jazz” may just be one of the finest expressions of this power. It expresses pain with such beauty. And it is a pain with only hints of suffering:

Love is just like a faucet

It turns off and on

Sometimes when you think it's on, baby

It has turned off and gone

As Billie sings with an effortless purity of voice you cannot help but feel intensely that kind of pain of a woman wanting “her man” who just can’t/won’t be there for her. It is, however, not only that. It is a universal yearning by all kinds of beings. Men go through it as well. We have witnessed bonobos suffering great grief. Still, this song and her growing sense of loss is very human specific:

My man don't love me

Treats me oh so mean

But then, over and over, just after a pause between beats you begin seeing her in sheer pleasure as she listens to the various male solos that are played in between her singing each of the song’s verses. It’s as if she’s showing us what the “lowest man that she’s ever seen” is missing out on. While listening, Billie is not in any pain. No suffering at all. She is in a “fine and mellow” ecstasy, simply letting the incredibly beautiful and sensual music of the sax, trombone and trumpet solos penetrate her body and allowing her body to do its thing in response. She is as all there in her body and her pleasure just as she is in her voice when letting that pain of unfulfilled wanting come forth with overpowering understatement but not with any kind of begging or “woe is me” suffering:

But you're so mean to me, baby

I know you're gonna drive me away.

And then back again to the male horn solos, where she lets his music love her so “fine and mellow.” She sways and rocks; smiles and nods; glistens and rolls with utter sensuality. A sensuality so subtle. Her abandonment is as understated as the voicing of the pain she knows so well. She is totally present. The men playing their solos are also. They saturate her with the sounds of their horns, and you, listening, are penetrated as well by the beauty and the power and the love of their playing.

But Billie is the centerpiece of the performance, the focus of their male loving. And she is completely there for it just as she is when she turns to use her voice to be so completely inside the pain of the woman who owns this song. In both she is one with her art. Fully being all her truths in that long, extended, exquisite moment.

Happy Valentine

 

The Lyrics:

My man don't love me

Treats me oh so mean

My man, he don't love me

Treats me awful mean

He's the lowest man

That I've ever seen

 

He wears high-draped pants

Stripes are really yellow

He wears high-draped pants

Stripes are really yellow

But when he starts in to love me

He's so fine and mellow

 

Love will make you drink and gamble

Make you stay out all night long

Love will make you drink and gamble

Make you stay out all night long

Love will make you do things that you know is wrong

 

But if you treat me right daddy

I'll stay home every day

If you treat me right daddy

I'll stay home every day

But you're so mean to me, baby

I know you're gonna drive me away

 

Love is just like a faucet

It turns off and on

Love is just like a faucet

It turns off and on

  Sometimes when you think it's on, baby

  It has turned off and gone

 

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