Nick Hempton: The Way It Is
AAJ: On The Business, you've added Yotam Silberstein's guitar on three tracks, and Art Hirahara plays electric piano on one track. Despite these changes in instrumentation, the band's overall sound remains consistent and the record hangs together quite well as a whole. Even on a funky track like "Cold Spring Fever," it still sounds like the Nick Hempton Band.
NH:That's the best thing I could possibly hope for. I'm certainly glad you said that. I like to have a little bit of a change in there. The band is a quartet. Yotam has been part of the band from the beginning, at various times, especially if there's the money for a quintet, or Art can't make it. He's always been part of the organization. I thought that dropping him in on three or four tracks would be a good idea, to just change things up a little bit. And with the electric piano, we've always done plenty of gigs where is no piano, which is never an ideal circumstance. So we kind of got used to this idea of the Rhodes sound in the band, and I wanted that sound on this record. And I wanted to have that with the guitar to sort of bring a whole new sound to the thing, but like you say, keeping the band together and a similar sound to the rest of it.
Do you remember a club in the East Village called Louis 649? The place is still there, but they don't have music anymore. It was sort of an instrumental club for us. We used to play there every couple of weeks. It was a great club. No cover charge. The times we played, it was always packed. We did Friday nights there. The place had no piano, so we brought the keyboard along. I think that's what really got the Rhodes sound into the band.
AAJ: Aside from your original compositions, you've chosen some tunes that aren't often played by modern jazz musicians. Benny Carter's "Lonely Woman" is on Nick Hempton Band. Don Redman's "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You" appears on The Business. The new record also includes a Rahsaan Roland Kirk composition that references Sidney Bechet, Don Byas and Fats Waller. Please explain your affinity for these songs.
NH: I'm really happy that I found the "Lonely Woman" tune on the first record. It's such a great song. I learned it from Sarah Vaughan's version. She did it in a session from the '50s, with Cannonball Adderley playing lead alto in a big band. It's beautiful. She's just heartbreaking. I learned it years ago, and we play it every now and again. When the first record came out, I was really into playing sad balladsthe most heartbreaking ballads I could find. The lyrics of the song are just devastating. I just had to try to get it down, and I'm glad I did because not many people play the song.
I've been listening to Roland Kirk forever. A teacher early on said that a lot of people overlook Roland Kirk. He wasn't just some sort of novelty with the three horns and that kind of stuffhe was one of the best tenor players ever. And I realized that it's true. Whatever horn he's playing, it's just beautiful lines. I started getting into his playing and composing. That track on the record is actually two tunes stuck together. It didn't end up that way on the record cover; I think there wasn't enough room to put that on there. Halfway through the tune, you'll notice it speeds up, and it becomes a tune called "Rolando," which is another Roland Kirk tune. I was glad to put something by him on there because not a lot of people play his tunes.
AAJ: The acceleration into the fast tempo works very well.
NH: We had a couple of gigs where that was not always the case close to a train wreck. Fortunately, it worked quite well on the record.
The other one was "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You." It's one of the tunes that often comes up with the traditional-style players, who I love. It's a great old tune.
AAJ: You just used the phrase "traditional-style players." It seems that the traditional players are a little more deliberate: storytellers with a narrative flow instead of cats just running licks. There is a lot of that in your playing, particularly the narrative flow aspect. It's more like human speech, rather than someone simply trying to burn.
NH: I'm glad it sounds that way. I feel like that's the way my playing is headed. Like I said, the Sonny Stitt style of alto playing is where I came fromand there's a lot of running changes in that. I think I'm moving more and more away from that to just playing melodies.
There's a lot more interplay between musicians in traditional styles. I find that in modern jazz there seems to be a lot of soloing and accompaniment. One guy is tearing it up and the others are supporting him. But in the traditional style of playing there's always interplay between the hornsthe front lineand the rhythm section. There's real group improvisation. That's what I love about it.