NEWPORT, R.I. -- Nina Simone, often referred to as the "High Priestess of Soul," was the highlight again this year of the 15th annual Newport Jazz Festival's opening night.
Her renditions of many new songs, such as "Go to Hell," "Life" and "Do What You Got to Do," set her fans to cheering. This was her sixth appearance here.
Nina for the last eight years has been one of the most controversial of the protest blues singers. During this time, she has projected the kind of "soul singing" that few others can match. Soul, she has said time and again, is a way of life.
She'd Skip Controversy
"Its essence is rooted in those who have had hard times. It has to do with the spirit," she said.
At an interview backstage, Miss Simone, wearing a colorful African print gown and head band, indicated a willingness to break away from the controversial image that she has made with her songs of protest and to concentrate more on musical involvement.
"I'm kind of tired of being controversial. I want to settle down and be quiet," she said.
She went on: "People come here expecting for me to walk off the stage. But I enjoy Newport. It's wonderful to play here before so many people. I love music, it's my life. It is the very foundation of my existence and I haven't begun to use half of my ideas."
Perhaps her new restraint can be comparable to that of guitarist Jim Hall, who in a very quiet way pleased the more serious jazz listener.
Unlike Miss Simone, who nearly caused a riot when more than 7,500 fans became hypnotized by her magnetic singing, Hall played in fine taste.
Cannonball Adderley, the sometimes rock 'n' roll alto saxophonist and the sometimes jazz swinger, as usual pleased the crowds.
There were others, of course, but none performed with the excitement of Miss Simone, Adderley and Hall. Barney Kessel and Gary Burton, however, did make substantial contributions. Mongo Santamaria, jazz performer, displayed excellent dexterity, particularly on his hit "Watermelon Man."