Nat Simpkins Band
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Nat Simpkins Band

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Soul jazz was in danger of dying out back in the 1970's. With the rise of fusion and funk, along with
the continued domination of rock and later on disco, the soulful brand of r&bish jazz (which sometimes overlapped with hard bop) was quickly losing its audience. Many jazz organists had to double (if not switch altogether) to synthesisers in order to keep
working.
In the 1980's the organ made a comeback that has continued up to the present time. (helped immeasurably by the rise of Joey DeFrancesco) and the older mixture
of blues, ballads and swinging standards became popular again. The Bluejay label (150 Bridge Street, Manchester, MA 01944) recently came out with this soul
jazz outing as their first of several releases. Nat Simpkins is a tenor saxophonist heavily influenced by
Stanley Turrentine. He even sounds like Mr. T on a number called "Arnett Is Comin To Town" (for Arnett Cobb). Joined by guitarist Eric Johnson, organist
Dave Braham, drummer Cecil Brooks III, and Ralph Dorsey on conga. Simpkins (who had previously led two record dates for Muse) is heard throughout in
excellent form. The repertoire consists of eight of his originals (they cover a wide area from "Rib Joint" and "Slo Movin Freight" to "Calypso Gal" and "Gospel
Truth") plus the standard "Autumn In New York." The music is very much in the soul jazz/hard bop tradition and is both accessible and full of subtle surprises.
Recommended and well worth searching for.
__Scott Yannow
- L.A. Jazz Scene August, 1998


The playing of locally based tenor (and occasionally, alto) saxophonist Nat Simpkins combines the bluesy
burr of soul-jazz and the lilt of the islands, a Massachusetts native, he spent considerable time in
Bermuda during his younger days). Backed by a trio (organist Dave Braham, guitarist Eric Johnson, and
drummer Cecil Brooks III) which lays down simpatico grooves, Simpkins blows the blues (and will blow yours away) on originals like “Rib Joint” and “Arnett Comes To Town” (for the late Texas tenor giant Arnett Cobb, a major influence). And he summons the trade winds with favourites like “Muchacho” and Sandy’s Song.” Simpkins’ work is engagingly and unfailably swinging and will most assuredly appeal even to those who consider jazz the musical equivalent of Brussels sprouts. That his two most recent albums are titled “Cookin With Some Barbecue” and “Spare Ribs” is indicative of his taste in music - and how tasty his efforts are.
---James Isaacs - Boston Sidewalk Feb 1998


When Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans, jazz vocalist and radio personality Henri Smith fled the city with little more than a change of clothes. He left behind a lifetime of memorabilia. But what Smith did take with him was more precious than any material possession. He took his music. Smith will be sharing both music and joy this Saturday night at the Hamilton-Wenham Community House at 7:30 p.m. when he performs with a group of professional and student musicians in "Jambalaya," a benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina. "We took a lot for granted in New Orleans," Smith says. "Bringing the New Orleans culture to other places gives me strength. Everyone who knows New Orleans music can be an ambassador, trying to spread the music and the joy." New Orleans jazz flavored Smith's childhood. Albert "Papa" French, a member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, lived next door and famous musicians like Aaron Neville, Art Neville and Robert French often came by to visit him. Smith liked listening to them play. Dave Bartholomew, who wrote the Fats Domino hit, "I'm Walking," lived down the street and young Smith stopped in occasionally to visit and look at the platinum records on the wall. - Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle Nov. 3, 2005


He has a deep crooner’s voice that’s spiced like Crescent City gumbo, which is why having vocalist Henri Smith in these parts can heat up those cold winter nights. Dislocated from his native New Orleans, Smith has relocated here and lays down his jazz, blues and Cajun songs with the hard-swinging Workingman’s Jazz Band. Sunday at the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts, Concord, 978-371-0820.
By Bob Young - Boston Herald Friday Jan 13, 2006


New Orleans singer Henri Smith is missing a brother, still lost in the flooded destruction of Hurricane
Katrina. But fate took a detour north to the picturesque North Shore town of Manchester-by-the-Sea. It’s there that Smith found a kindred spirit, Nat Simpkins, who has helped him get on with his llife. ”Nat and I are like brothers,” said Smith about saxophonist Simpkins, who welcomed him into his life after Katrina’s wrath deprived Smith of his home, his job and his older brother Edward. ”Our lives run parallel. It’s a great feeling. ”A feeling that couldn’t be more mutual. ”It’s been traumatic for Henri and for me, as well,” Simpkins said. ”But it’s also been great.”

How this unlikely duo ended up eventually making jazz and blues together in Massachusetts is the stuff of a holiday feel-good movie. They’ve formed a band that’s already booked for much of December.

Thanks to Alison and Nick White, parents of a student Simpkins teaches privately, Smith and his fiance are now settled rent-free in an apartment in Gloucester. After arriving Sept. 30 clutching only overnight bags, the couple have been showered with clothing and furniture by friends of Simpkins. Bernie and Phyl’s donated a sofa and chair. ”It may not be home, but my therapy is singing and playing music with Nat,” said Smith, 59. That relationship began eight years ago when Simpkins and his wife, visiting New Orleans for the first time, knocked on the door of radio station WWOZ-FM. DJ and programmer Smith invited him in and played several cuts from Simpkins’ ”Cape Ann Escape” CD. A friendship was born.

The 58-year-old Simpkins, who owns Bluejay Records, soon became a regular visitor to New Orleans, where he found himself sharing the stage in clubs with Smith and heavies such as Donald Harrison, Kermit Ruffins and Bill Summers. His brawny tenor sound proved to be a perfect complement to Smith’s smoother, deep-voiced style. Smith’s ”New Orleans Friends and Flavours” CD, featuring Simpkins, Ruffins, Jason Marsalis and others, was released on the Bluejay label.

Smith’s fiance, Anita Lavigne, persuaded him to leave his uptown New Orleans house only hours before Katrina hit. They traveled in a caravan of family to Houston, where they endured a nightmarish month before ending up in a 30-hour traffic snarl when they tried to flee Hurricane Rita. After that xperience, Smith was ready to listen when Simpkins urged him to move to New England. ”I told Nat, ’We’re not going back,’ ” Smith said. ” ’We’re going forward to Massachusetts.’” Although most of his family is in Atlanta and the
whereabouts of his brother is unknown, Smith is settling in, at least through most of next year. ”The food here is great,” he said.”And people have been so
warm and nice to us. But I need to adjust to the weather. During the first snowstorm, I ended up stopping on a hill and the (car’s) wheels started spinning. Now I know I shouldn’t do that.”
Music, naturally, remains a source of inspiration for both Smith and Simpkins. ”Every time I perform I’m bringing that New Orleans culture up north,” said Smith. ”It’s my therapeutic blanket.”

By Bob Young - Friday, December 16, 2005


Nat Simpkins is a tenor player who falls squarely within the Texas or tough tenor tradition. He plays with a big, open sound that recalls an earlier era when greats like Buddy Tate, Stanley Turrentine, and Gene Ammons were still with us. In fact this album is dedicated to both Tate and Turrentine whose spirits imbue the proceedings. In addition to this homage, this session serves to honor New Orleans and its musical heritage. The music is honest, with the focus being on musicianship and good times.

Simpkins really digs in throughout with a gritty, assertive growl that seems rare among today's tenor players. Simpkins wrote six of the compositions on this disc, reflecting the diversity of Swing, Latin and the
blues, while the other four tracks draw upon traditional sounds. The New Orleans chestnuts ("Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans" and "Just a Closer Walk With Thee") provide Simpkins an opportunity to demonstrate his
affinity for the city as well as his personal take on the city's musical legacy. His own compositions such
as "Crescent City" draw upon Swing while his "Bayou Blues" gets down and dirty. The latter catches
Simpkins' raspy tone at its best. Simpkins reflects his debt to the great Swing and Bop saxophonists
throughout as well, but nowhere more than on the shuffle-influenced take on Count Basie's One O'Clock Jump," perhaps in deference to the saxophonist's co-dedicatee Buddy
Tate, or the boppish "Goodbye Mr. T," an ode to the great Stanley Turrentine. Although tough to beat Otis Redding's rendition.

Simpkins and crew take a stab at Sam Cooke's "Shake," with a good natured second line feel reflecting New Orleans parade traditions.The album concludes with Simpkins' charmingly romantic ballad "The Court of Two Sisters," in a duet setting with the supportive accompaniment of pianist Peter Martin. This is a gratifying dedication to New Orleans and its heritage.
- Jay Collins
- Cadence April 1st, 2003


On this, his debut CD as a leadliner Henri Smith is twice blessed. With a great voice and great friends. The former comes from within himself and his own innate vocal talent. The latter comes from within the city he calls home –a virtual Who’s Who of New Orleans musical luminaries. Containing seven standards, ranging from "Walk On By" and "That Old Black Magic" to "The Work Song" and "Them There Eyes," and one original by Nat Simpkins "Spanish Rice and Beans," Smith’s vocal magic is interwoven around the artistry
of Donald Harrison on alto sax, Nat Simpkins on tenor, Kermit Ruffins on trumpet, Wendell Brunious on flugelhorn, Jason Marsalis on vibes, Tuba Fats on tuba, Thaddeus Richard on piano, Roland Guerin and Kevin Morris doubling on bass, Bill Summers on congas and Jerry Anderson and Cecil Brooks III doubling on drums. Not a bad bunch of guys to have in your corner for an eight-song recording session! So naturally, as one might expect from such a gathering of all-stars, each track is first class with some great solos from each of them spread evenly throughout.

Smith’s voice is smooth, silky, polished and very tightly controlled. He moves between high and low notes effortlessly. His style has been variously termed "sophisticated swing" and "dramatic delivery," to which this reviewer can only say, "Amen." In recent years, Smith has been making a name for himself as a much-sought-after master of ceremonies and, until just a few months ago, he was a deejay, highlighting local smooth jazz artists on WSJZ’s Saturday night "Home Grown" segment until the station changed formats.

This CD is a great debut for him and, hopefully, it will inspire him to even greater heights. The black and white photos of Smith on the front and back cover and liner notes were shot by Herman Leonard. Considering the immortal musical icons captured on film by this living legend of the lens, Smith is in some truly great company!
By Dean M. Shapiro - Offbeat Magazine March 2002


Discography

In late August 2006 the band played a two night engagement at Cecil's in West Orange New Jersey and recorded both nights. This resulted in 4 new CDs "The Nat Simpkins/Henri Smith Band featuring Charles Neville Live at Cecil's Vol. 1,2,3,4." In 2002 Smith released his debut CD on the Bluejay Records label entitled New Orleans Friends and Flavours. The recording was produced by saxophonist Nat Simpkins, who performed on the recording with an all-star supporting cast including Kermit Ruffins, Donald Harrison Jr. Bill Summers and Jason Marsalis. More info and audio samples can be found at www.bluejayrecords.com/neworleans/index.html
In 2001 Simpkins also released his third CD fo Bluejay Records entitled Crescent City.
It hit #1 on the jazzweek radio charts and #35 for all jazz records released in 2002 the allstar lineup included Simpkins on tenor sax, Kermit ruffins on trumpet, Jason Marsalis, vibraphone, Tuba Fats, tuba,
Peter martin, piano. Roland Guerin, bass and Cecil Brooks III on drums

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Bio

Get ready for a party! Every night is Mardi Gras! The Nat Simpkins/Henri Smith Band is hot, spicy gumbo that will always satisfy your appetite for a good time! This band will have you singing, dancing, and clapping to the beat in no time at all! Bandleaders Nat Simpkins and Henri Smith are two of the most talented and versatile musicians to ever step on a stage together. Simpkins’ bluesy “Texas Tenor” sax is a perfect compliment to Smith’s rich bluesy baritone vocals. Band mate Charles Neville from the legendary Neville Brothers Band adds some cajun spice Their exciting stage show is a rich gumbo with many spicy ingredients. Together they present all the flavours of New Orleans including swing, funk, brass band-second line, R&B, hard bop, Latin, Blues, and Calypso. Henri’s singing style is reminiscent of Lou Rawls and Johnny Hartman and Simpkins’ tenor from the tough Texas Tenor school of King Curtis, Gene Ammons and Stanley Turrentine.
Recently they performed on Good Morning America as part of the Mardi Gras coverage. They have appeared at nearly all of the major venues in New Orleans including Tipitina’s, Sweet Lorraine’s, the Red Room, and the House of Blues recently they have appeared at the World Trade Center and Bob’ Southern Bistro in Boston as well Cecil’s Jazz Club in New Jersey and the Annual lester Young tribute concert at St Peter’s Church in New York City. They are ready to share their talents and positive energy with the world.