I Can Stand a Little Esther
One of the hardest words in eastern spirituality is "surrender". There are many things I can do, but that one takes an enormous effort even though releasing all effort is the point of it. Resisting, however, is something I long ago turned into an art.
For years I had resisted listening to the music of Esther Phillips, and for not particularly logical reasons. Back in the mid-1970s I became obsessed with Dinah Washington. Many people said that I would "just love" Esther as the rightful heir to Washington. Why, she'd even recorded Washington's signature tune "What a Difference a Day Makes", in a disco version no less. I heard that version, considered it blasphemy (and I don't even think it's one of Washington's better songs) and thought I'd closed the book on Phillips forever.
Yet, through the years I'd read bits of reviews and stories about her. Her drug and drama filled life echoed many a jazz or blues peer, and I became intrigued by what I might be missing.
A few weeks ago, the image of Phillips on the above album called out at me from one of the bins at Community Thrift on Valencia with "$1.50" plastered on her left cheek. I bought it mainly because it had a favorite tune, "Native New Yorker". But a couple of track into this out-of-print and I was hooked.
Hours later I'd download a few dozen of her best tunes. I hear little of Washington in her voice. Both have a sense of humor, but Washington was about forging through the blues like a captain of a tiny vessel while Phillips seems to be about diving into the depths, wrapped in her jewels of pain as she falls to the bottom of the sea.
As another California monsoon approaches and San Francisco near 120% of its annual rainfall, this seems like the perfect Phillips tune for the next couple of days.