Nicole Hart: A Marvelous Instrument
As for men, it is definitely Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and James Taylor. I don't think people realize what great vocal technique James Taylor has, as well as being a consummate vocal story teller. What a way to put a song across. And Donny makes me cry. He combines so much feeling with yet unbelievably perfect technique. I also love Lowell George, a big influence, James Brown, Otis [Redding], Sam Cooke, and David Ruffin...and Al Green. And, of course, Howlin' Wolf. Again, these are just a few of my favorites. Once I get going on this topic it's hard for me to stop, but for the sake of your readers, I will now!
AAJ: So, to shift gears, your keyboardist, now your fiancé, Lance Ong has also been a musical director. Why not introduce him?
NH: Lance is one of the deepest musical cats I have had the pleasure to work with, and we write together, produce together, and love performing together. He plays an instrument onstage known as a Lync, which is a keyboard midi- controller he wears with a strap so that it hangs like a guitar from his neck. Jan Hammer and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan both use it, and Chick Corea and Edgar Winter used something similar. It enables Lance to move all over the room when he solos, and has a pitch wheel which he uses in a way so that it often sounds like a guitar. He also uses a Nord Electro module, which he has tweaked to emulate a [Hammond] B-3 [organ] so well that if you close your eyes, you'll think there is a Leslie in the room. He's a great songwriter and just a great musician all around.
AAJ: Also, while we are at it, introduce the other members of your band.
NH: Lance and I had been together in a band called The Shades. When that disbanded, Lance and our very talented bassist, Vonnie Hudson, and I decided we wanted to keep making music together. We held auditions and heard many fine players, but there was something outstanding about drummer, Joe Piteo, and guitarist, Rich Cohen. It was musical synergy that got the band off to a great start. We worked six months straight with that configuration, doing as many shows as I could book to get the band as tight as possible. However, Rich had told us from the beginning that he had his own project, and I was booking so many gigs he wasn't able to devote the time he wanted to his own thing. He was great for us for that first six months, but then we decided it was best to part ways, and I called up a guy I have known for over thirteen years, a fantastic guitarist named Gil Parris, who actually has a Grammy nomination under his belt, as well as five national releases.
Gil is one of the most amazing musicians I have ever had the pleasure to work with, and he happened to be a good friend of our drummer, Joe, as well. We worked him in, but he also has his own career and I knew right from the start we would need another great guitarist just in case, so I called Dave Gross. Dave just won a nomination for the 2007 Blues Foundation Awards (formerly the WC Handy Awards) in the category of Best New Artist. Dave is an excellent musician, performer and songwriter, and one of the nicest fellows you'd ever want to meet.
What is interesting for us is that Gil and Dave bring two completely different approaches to our music, so it can be pretty darn intriguing what comes out in the mix night after night. Gil is more jazz and fusion influenced, and has a country blues influence as wellhe has listened to a lot of Hank Garland, one of my favoriteswhereas Dave is deeply influenced by Hubert Sumlin and Django Reinhardt, and has a more traditional blues sound. It is very rewarding working with both of them, and we toggle back and forth between the two.
I have to stop here and let you know that Vonnie, who plays five string bass, Joe and Lance have a special chemistry with each other, and singing with those guys backing me up is quite a thrill. Each of them is a terrific musician in his own right, and they all solo beautifully. There are a lot of solos in this band, because we feature each musician. Many bassists we have worked with over the years have refused to solo, but Vonnie eats bass solos for breakfast. I call him our secret weapon, because it is mesmerizing to our audience when he steps up and lays one down. Our drummer, Joe, is also just an outstanding soloist, and I love to call certain tunes at certain times just because he has a drum solo in ithe blows the audience's mind and really gets them excited. The band is just wonderful, and there is great deal of synergy between us.
AAJ: You have just released a new CD. This is a live performance, which as many musicians know can be a real risk in its self. Tell us about this release. Were you pleased with the results?