Wednesday rage, Thursday swingin’ and serious funk
25th February 2013 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
Nigel Hall stands as the latest talented musician to adopt New Orleans as his home. And in turn, the music community has adopted the soulful vocalist and funk ‘n jazz keyboardist right back. Hall, who next week continues his residency at the Maple Leaf for a gig dubbed “Wednesday Night Rage,” visited the Crescent City many times in recent years and finally landed in New Orleans in November.
“I love how people down here – when I tell them I moved from New York – say:‘We got another one! We got another one!’ Hall exclaims with a laugh. “It’s like Superman when he goes to the sun to get power,” he continues. “I’d always come to New Orleans and be inspired and then when I would go everywhere else in the world I’d be inspired. Finally, I just had to move here.
“Everything that I’ve ever stood for as a musician and really as a person is constantly displayed through the culture of this place,” says Hall who is originally from Washington, D.C. and was residing in Harlem before heading south.
Hall grew up surrounded by music. His father was a professional guitarist and his mother sang around the house. However it was records that really intrigued him even as a child.
“I just loved records; I still love records,” the collector enthusiastically announces. Even now, Hall, 31, remembers when he was just nine years old and the impact he felt on hearing keyboardist George Duke’s album, Feel. “I thought, ‘You can do that? That’s what I want to do.’ I still listen to that record.”
At that time, Hall was already playing piano. He began at age four. Hall is a musician of many interests that emerge when singing or playing—or both—with a variety of bands in diversified styles. He fronts his own Nigel Hall Band that will be opening on tour with New Orleans heavy-hitters, Galactic, performs as a vocalist with Soulive and jam band Lettuce and works with a group called Dr. Klaw that includes Dumpstaphunk musicians guitarist Ian Neville and bassist Nick Daniels. He also produced, played keys and sang on Dirty Dozen drummer Terrence Higgins’ latest CD, Rage Until Sunrise. In March and then again in April, Hall will head to Brazil and Europe, respectively, with the renowned jazz fusion group, the Headhunters that was formed by the legendary pianist Herbie Hancock.
“It’s going to be the hardest but easiest gig in the world,” says Hall who knows the Headhunters material inside and out while realizing he is not Hancock. “I’m really into jazz,” he declares. “A lot of what I do in soul music comes from that. The first record I ever heard wasn’t Stevie Wonder. The first record I ever heard was Return to Forever. That’s real complicated shit.”
“I just like music,” says the difficult to define and refusing to be pigeon-holed artist. “I like the way it sounds and I like the way it feels. I haven’t even thought about what kind of musician I am. I just know I’m someone who contributes to what we all love.”
Hall stands back from his declaration a bit when he says, “You can definitely say I’m a soul singer. That’s just what comes out of me. I can’t control that.” And again, he kind of fudges on not defining himself by saying, “I’m a funk keyboardist. I play funk music and I’m proud to be funky. And I’m proud to have funky friends to be funky with me. And New Orleans is the funkiest place on the planet.”
Just the day before the interview, Hall had the opportunity to hang out at Art “Poppa Funk” Neville’s house along with Art’s son Ian and keyboardist Ivan Neville, Aaron Neville’s son who leads Dumpstaphunk. “I’m tripping over it,” the still excited Hall proclaims. “It made me feel like I felt at nine (years old) when I heard that (George Dukes’) record.
“I just listened and taught myself everything I needed to be a good keyboard player,” says Hall, who describes his room as a shrine to all his favorite pianists. On the vocal side, he names Donny Hathaway as one of his favorite singers of all time. “He came from the church,” Hall acknowledges and that influence can be heard both in his approach to the keyboards and in his vocals. “I’m old school in the new school.”
“I just want to get some of my friends together and have fun,” Hall says of his gig at the Maple Leaf. “I moved down here to just be closer to what I love in life. I’m not leaving New Orleans. I’m here. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Thursday Night Swingin’
Thursday nights at the Prime Example have offered the featured musicians to, as we like to say and sing in New Orleans, “do what you wanna.” Drummer Shannon Powell, who is often heard playing traditional jazz, moved into more a more modern jazz mode and then shifted into that wonderful back-of-town style by doing a delicious rendition of the great guitarist/vocalist Snooks Eaglin’s memorable “Irene.” This week, Herlin Riley, who reigns as one of the most brilliant modern jazz drummers on the planet, wants to strut his stuff on less familiar grounds. On Thursday, February 28, he’ll be hitting on some contemporary rhythm and blues and combination of other sounds featuring vocalist Erica Falls with pianist Thaddeus Richard and bassist Donald Ramsey in the rhythm section.
“It means a backbeat to me,” says Riley of what differentiates the style. “I decided I wanted to do something different as opposed to doing just straight-ahead because I do so many different things.”
Riley spotted Falls, a New Orleans native, on television and then went to catch her show at Cafe Istanbul. “I really enjoyed her and I sat through the whole entire set. I don’t normally do that because stuff doesn’t usually hold my interest that long.” Thus the gig.
The drummer recently returned from performing and recording with the noted pianist Ahmad Jamal. Active on so many musical fronts, Riley has been a participant in celebrating Black History Month in programs presented by the Thelonious Monk Institute at area schools. The final one, which is open to the public, will be held at 1:30 p.m. at McMain High School on Friday March 1, 2013.
“That’s all in one swoop,” Riley declares of traveling from France to the Lower 9th Ward where he performed at the Greater New Orleans Homes Church.
Majorly Funkin’ It UpYou say funk, you say Maceo. Repeat… You say funk, you say Maceo. Maceo Parker is, has always been, the man on the sax that kicked it in to give greats like the Godfather of Soul James Brown pump, to add the soul groove to innovator George Clinton and P-Funk and the likes of fellow funksters Bootsy Collins and Prince. He’ll bring the funkin’ groove to Tipitina’s on Thursday, February 28, along with some of the alumni of Parliament Funkadelic including bassist Rodney “Skeet” Curtis and trombonist Greg Boyer. Be there or be square.
This article was originally published in the February 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper