Billy Taylor wrote “I Wish I Knew” in 1963, before I was born. Nina Simone recorded the most famous version, in 1967, on “Silk and Sumpin'”, released as a single, later used in recent times out of context by some big goods (as compared to “good”) companies for commercial consumerism propaganda films — tv. I don’t think I knew I knew the song until quite recently. For example, Lisa Fay Beatty (the late great) and I discussed creating a show about her memoir about Nina in Portland, circa 2010. When I ran for City Council in Palo Alto in 2014, I opened my remarks at one of the panels by quoting that line: I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.
I don’t feel free now. Maybe untethered.
Not sure people believed me. That I didn’t feel free or that I cared about blacks and the oppressed. Oh, well. You can lead the observers at a horse race to a non-segregated drinking fountain, but you can’t make them not put their lips on the faucet.
Henry Butler and I met Billy Taylor December, 2002 when Henry was on the famous piano players public radio show the good doctor hosted. I remember that there was a last minute change in the order of performances and Henry in a moment of self-doubt fretted that he was moved around as a sign of disrespect. I didn’t sense that. The others on that show were Bill Charland, Freddie Cole (Nat’s brother), Jason Moran and that Brazilian lady. Eliane Elias. Unless she was the one that cancelled. Someone cancelled. I stupidly asked Bill Charlap who else he played with (as if he filled his schedule as a side-man).
Anyhow, now Billy Taylor and Nina Simone (and Lisa Fay Beatty) and Henry Butler can jam together in heaven. (I think I once here in the Plastic Alto version of the afterlife also put Paul Motian and Mia from the Gits in a band together — that’s a pretty large band. It would take quite the arranger to make that sound like angels. I hear Sue Mingus is taking lessons. That’s kind of a joke. Sue Mingus has done an excellent job keeping Charles Mingus music alive — although Jack Walrath told me that the scores were simplified from the versions he knew.