June 2009. I’m sitting on the dock in the California Delta. Even many Californians don’t know about this Eastern collection of rivers and small waterways. It’s a combination between a nature reserve area and a huge boat harbor. My dad has a houseboat here. From his window you can see a baby blue heron who lives in the tullies (what they call the reedy area at the edge of the water), lots of ducks and birds and fish.
My buddy, “The President” (her real name is Lisa, but at 22 years-old she has herself so together that earned the name) is on the next towel over. We just got here from San Francisco where she’s going to the University of SF. It was cold in the city, we couldn’t take it. And I live in Seattle. So, we are soaking in the sunshine.
Grumpy boat guys (they’re very nice, most of them, but amusingly grumpy) keep coming past our dock and making comments like “Those damn clouds” or “You’re gonna get burnt, sittin by the water like that”. But we are totally content. Dad’s got a pumpin stereo on the boat, so I put on a CD that I gave him long ago (I never take music on vacations, I like to see what comes up in the rest of the world). I put on Verve Remixed, Volume 2. Nina Simone’s voice rings out across the water.
Verve Remixed is a series of CDs where original songs by great (mostly vocal) jazz musicians like Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan are taken and redone by today’s top DJs and producers like: Felix Da Housecat, Theivery Corporation, Mr. Scruff, The Gotan Project, Dan The Automator and more.
Most of the time when I hear a favorite artist remixed, I feel it falls short, but this series finds a balance. The producers leave lots of space in the mix for the songs to breathe, and there is a lush feel to much of the re-production. Every one of the four volumes in this collection is stellar. Another thing I love about the series is that it has a companion set called Verve Unmixed, where the original songs are published in the same order.
In their day, singers like Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday were on the cutting edge. Dropping songs that were so undeniable that no barriers of race, style or economy could hold them back. I like to think that they would be thrilled to still be on the forefront of high-quality innovation. There is no collection like this.
By the way, we did get totally sunburnt.
Join DJ Michele Myers Fridays at 9pm for Nite Life on KEXP. Every Friday at midnight she does this album spotlight, telling a story and playing 3 songs from the record. Michele also produces KEXP Documentaries and hosts Wake Up Thursdays from 6-9am for KEXP on Radio New York 91.5FM.