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You're Reading Sophisticated Ladies:  Our Playlist Celebrates Jazz Divas

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Charlot Kristensen
Culture

Sophisticated Ladies:  Our Playlist Celebrates Jazz Divas

Sip some wine and enjoy the signature vocals of Billie, Ella, Sarah, Dinah, Dianne, Norah, Chaka, Fantasia in tunes infused with Black girl joy, resilience and magic.

Are you “In a Sentimental Mood”? The quarantine blues will do that. Or maybe you’re feeling giddy and “In the Mood for Love.” Whatever your current vibe is, chances are there’s a jazz melody to match it.

Maybe you fancy bluesy, sassy and scat-filled standards crooned by jazz vocal giants Billie Holiday (“God Bless the Child”), Ella Fitzgerald (“Sophisticated Lady”), Sarah Vaughan (“Autumn in New York”) and Dinah Washington (“What a Diff’rence a Day Made”). Or perhaps you relish the soulful and sultry sounds of contemporary chanteuses like Sade (“Smooth Operator”), Anita Baker (“Angel”), Lizz Wright (“Blue Rose”) and Norah Jones (“Nearness of You”).

These sophisticated ladies, they’ve got rhythm. And they reimagine American songbook classics and pop-chart toppers by flirting with the notes, changing up the tempos and caressing the lyrics with their signature vocal phrasings, which give the songs new meaning and feeling through a lens of Black girl magic, joy and pain.

They’re also jazz messengers. With “Alien,” Somi turns Sting’s “Englishman In New York” into an immigrant tale about being an African in New York. Similarly, Cassandra Wilson transforms Sting’s brilliant “Fragile” into a haunting bossa nova meditation we play on repeat (“On and on the rain will fall, like tears from a star”). And enduring protest song classics like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” covered here by modern muses Fantasia and Andra Day, are just as painfully relevant today in light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

But hope is not lost. Jazz diva Dianne Reeves imparts words of wisdom from her grandma on “Better Days,” while dearly departed elders Abbey Lincoln, Nancy Wilson and Shirley Horn remind us of our resilience and offer pearls of positivity to let go, dream a little and savor life on “Throw it Away,” “Happy Talk” and  “Here’s to Life.”

Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole and Gladys Knight are also in the mix! So grab a cup of red wine, black coffee or green tea and swing, sway and swoon along with our playlist packed with 38 jazzy tunes belted by the leading ladies of soul and jazz.
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