ONE OF the most influential jazz performers of all time, Billie Holiday is "a significant person for every jazz musician," says singer Jane Ogle.
It’s fitting, then, that the Southern Holiday Jazz Band will bring her music to the Trinity United Methodist Church with “Billie on Barnard” Aug. 21.
“The Billie Holiday show is something special we do,” Ogle says. “It’s not the only thing we do, but it is the focus for this one.”
“Billie on Barnard” will be a 90-minute nonstop performance of Holiday’s best songs, as well as stories about her life.
“It’s a departure from the usual opry format,” Ogle notes; most of the Trinity series have been an opry-style performance. Not this one—Jared Hall, creator of the Trinity Sanctuary Concert series, turned the direction over to Ogle and pianist Eddie Wilson.
“Jared wants to offer a diversity of music styles,” she adds. “He’s providing the incredible environment and venue.”
The Southern Holiday Jazz Band consists of Ogle on vocals, Jody Espina on saxophone and clarinet, Mitch Hennes on bass, Billy Hoffman on drums and Eric Jones on piano. Ogle established the band with Holiday in mind—the similar names are not a coincidence.
This is Espina’s first time performing with the show, since the saxophone part was only recently added.
“It’s fun to play the tunes and follow in the footsteps of Lester Young and Benny Goodman,” Espina says, noting that Young and Goodman are two of his personal musical heroes.
The narrative part of the show makes the experience even more real, since the audience will hear more than just Holiday’s songs.
“I think Jane’s narrative is very good,” Espina explains. “The narrative gives it a dimension other than just hearing the songs. Every time we come in to practice, Jane starts talking and I keep thinking she’s talking to us, giving us facts, and then I realize she’s going through the narrative. It’s like seeing someone talking on their Bluetooth and then you realize they’re not talking to you. It’s very real and authentic.
“It’s kind of rare anywhere to get a themed concert like this, and one that’s so well put together,” Espina says.
Billie Holiday lived a troubled life, working as a prostitute in her early years and growing up without a father figure. (Born Eleanora Fagan, her stage name is a combination of performer Billie Dove and her father, Clarence Holiday.)
She also later became addicted to drugs and was arrested for possession in 1947. She died from heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver in 1959. Despite her troubles, she was an incredibly influential figure in jazz performance and became a huge star, performing with big names like Count Basie and Artie Shaw.
Ogle makes it clear that she doesn’t intend to be a Billie Holiday impersonator, but she does believe that everyone can identify with the singer in some way.
“I think everyone can have some sympathy,” she says. “Especially women in the music business can relate to what she went through. Being a woman in a man’s world can be challenging. It’s hard to say I’ve channeled her, but anyone with an ounce of sympathy can relate to her music.”
Holiday performed in a time where radio, television, and records were increasing in popularity, and Ogle says she was a leading force in the change. “We want to showcase her style, the impact she had at a time when a lot of change was going on,” Ogle says.
Growing up in a family of musicians, Ogle had an early love of making music that only strengthened when she was introduced to jazz in the ‘90s.
“It was a world that I knew existed but I didn’t dive into,” she says of the jazz genre. “It’s the basis for all American music.”
Up next for Ogle is a speakeasy showcase at Moon River Brewing Co. As for reprising “Billie on Barnard,” Ogle’s open to it, saying, “I’d do it at any venue that would be appropriate.” But the Trinity sanctuary might just be the best venue out there.
Says Ogle: “I think Jared’s doing something special.”