FLANDERS TODAY – Dani KLEIN/Sal LA ROCCA – by Christophe Verbiest
Dani Klein & Sal La Rocca reunite in celebration of Billie Holiday
Rooted in classics
You might know them from “What’s a Woman”, “Just a Friend of Mine” or “Puerto Rico”. The singer, who turns 63 on New Year’s Day, accounted for this goodbye by saying that she wanted a quieter life.
Still, only a year after that farewell gig, Klein already has a new album out. Dani Sings Billie was produced in collaboration with the bass player Sal La Rocca who had played with Vaya Con Dios during the band’s later years. La Rocca also heads his own jazz quartet that will accompany Klein for upcoming concerts.
So whatever happened to working less? “My life is much calmer now,” says Klein. “I never said I would stop singing. I was just fed up with the big machinery that Vaya Con Dios was. No more long tours for me.”
For the upcoming concerts, she says, “I’ll leave home at noon and afterwards I’ll sleep in my own bed. Maybe the dressing rooms will be smaller, maybe we’ll eat a slice of bread with cheese instead of salmon on toast, but I couldn’t care less.”
The Billie in Dani Sings Billie is of course Billie Holiday, the jazz singer who died at the age of 44 in 1959 after a difficult and tragic life. It’s not the first time Klein has recorded one of Holiday’s songs. The B-side of the very first single by Vaya Con Dios, “Just a Friend of Mine”, was “You Let Me Down”, a single Holiday released in 1936.
“You know how Vaya Con Dios started?” Klein asks. “A friend of ours opened a clothing shop in Ghent, and we were asked to perform a few songs there. We didn’t have much time to rehearse. It was a period when I was immersing myself in Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday, so we performed two songs of the former and one of the latter.”
And, she continues, they liked doing it. “The three of us decided to keep playing together, and we wrote ‘Just a Friend of Mine’. We urgently needed a B-side, but we didn’t have any other songs. It had to be in English, so no to Piaf. And that’s why in the end we recorded ‘You Let Me Down’.”
I really love the jazz that was born right after the blues, the music from the swing era
Fast-forward 27 years when Sal La Rocca invited Dani Klein to sing with his band at the Théâtre Marni in Brussels. “After the concert, the director came to see us,” La Rocca recalls. “She wanted us to do a project together during the first River Jazz Festival, which was going to be held in January 2015. And off we went. We had already tried some things before, but they didn’t work out.”
“Back when we were still in Vaya Con Dios,” Klein adds, “we attempted to write some new material and give a jazz makeover to some very diverse songs, from Abba to Barbara. But it never worked out well.”
Théâtre Marni’s request encouraged them to try again. Klein came up with the idea to cover Holiday. “I’m not in love with modern jazz,” she says. “It’s often too contrived and too intellectual. I prefer music that evokes emotions. I really love the jazz that was born right after the blues, the music from the swing era. That’s why I proposed Billie Holiday.”
Dani Sings Billie shows it was the right decision. Klein, however, chose not to focus on the darker side of Holiday’s repertoire because it has been highlighted so often. “That’s why we do the songs that sound more optimistic,” La Rocca explains. “And there are plenty of them. People tend to forget that she was a cheerful woman who had a lot of fun with her piano player.”
A couple of hot tomatoes
“The world is a dark place these days,” Klein adds. “Optimism has dwindled, the future looks ominous. I didn’t want to add to that. And then those songs in which the woman is the victim of an abusing man, who she keeps on loving anyway: been there, done that. I prefer ‘A Fine Romance’ with its line ‘We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes. But you’re as cold as yesterday’s mashed potatoes.’ It makes me laugh.”
Klein and La Rocca were very satisfied with their concert at Théâtre Marni. “Don’t ask me why or how, but there was magic in the air,” Klein says. “So we decided to release the batch of songs that we had rehearsed. At least for us, it’s sheer luck that the album coincides with the birth centenary of Billie Holiday. Maybe the record company had thought about it.”
They won’t say yet if there will be a follow-up to Dani Sings Billie. It all depends on how successful the album will be. But they certainly would love to play together some more in the future.
The 6 December Dani Klein & Sal La Rocca Quartet show at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels is sold out. Check the Vaya Con Dios website for info on shows in early 2016