Remembering Nick Nixon

On February 28 James “Nick” Nixon passed away. He was 76.

Nick changed Nashville’s music scene forever, and touched the lives of so many in the community. One such individual is Shannon “Bayou” Williford, who has been kind enough to share the following words in celebration of his life.

From Shannon…

When I came to Nashville – ’95 – I was looking (since I came from the Baton Rouge blues scene – Kenny Neal, Larry Garner, Henry Gray, Chris Thomas King, etc…) for the “real” blues; the blues that was the modern version of what was played when it was kicking, in the ’50s and ’60s. I figured Nashville had a large Black population, so there had to be some real blues folk here. I knew nothing of the amazing history of R&B/blues in the Music City. So I poked around and found Casey Lutton, who was playing guitar with Marion James. I went to hear her. She was most certainly the real deal! And Casey told me about everything in town. He sent me to see Marion’s “cousin,” Nick. I think they are actually cousins by marriage in some way… I went to Parks and struck up a friendship. He introduced me to his boss, Wayne Hill, the supervisor for Metro Parks Music. Wayne’s dad was the leader of the Fairfield Four, and Wayne was a jazz trumpeter of some renown. Wayne invited me to play with he and Nick, and later he invited me to join the staff. He and Nick had been there since the beginning of Parks Music in the early ’70s. Nick teaching guitar and Wayne doing medieval recorder (which he loved) and jazz. Nick started a lot of great musicians there. Ask Mike Doster, who was learning bass and playing with Nick and Wayne, when one day, when Mike was 17, BB King’s band called Wayne and Nick, looking for a bassman. They sent Mike, and he stayed for many years on that gig.

I came on teaching harmonica. Nick and I started what became our Centennial jamBand program by combining my harp students with his guitarists and doing some showcases. We had some great times working/playing together. We would play at all the parks events. Nick and I also traded lessons. I learned guitar and he learned harp. We were still embarrassed to play these things in front of each other. I’m equally as weak on guitar as Nick was on harp! From there we developed the Blues in the Schools program and presented it to the Music City Blues Society. In 2000, thanks to Dave and Melinda Kunkel, MCBS leaders, we were nominated and won the Blues Foundation’s Keep the Blues Alive Award for our Blues in the Schools. They launched us and we eventually left that organization and formed – with the great Buffy Holton leading – American Roots Music Education, and did a lot of stuff thru them. When the economy crashed in ’08, our ARME thing sagged away. During the 12 years of Blues in the Schools, Nick and I would do as many as 70 school appearances a year. We were the first (according to Ronnie Stein and Howard Gentry) musicians to play at the Metro Council meeting. We were the only music program to be invited to play every school in Nashville. It was good stuff.

I loved the way Nick was so positive with the kids. He genuinely loves people and loves children. He would constantly tell them how good they were doing. And when correcting them, he didn’t come across as anything but helping. He would tell kids that there was the way that he thought was the right way to play a chord or a lick, but he would also show other ways to get the same thing. And he was always a student of guitar, too, asking others to show him a lick or a change.

Nick was such a font of history and knowledge for me. The best thing was his humility, I think. It goes with a deep self-confidence, though. He knew who he was and who he was not. Musically, he showed me so much about groove and harmony. And again. Nick loved people. He was a giving man. In his neighborhood, he was the first guy to help folks who are down and out. He didn’t even get mad at ’em if they mess up and do him wrong. I’ve seen him be so sweet and respectful to homeless/lost soul types. It was inspiring and certainly a reflection of his spirituality.

Spring 2015 Nashville Fringe Festival Sampler

Spring 2015 Sampler Cover

The Spring 2015 Nashville Fringe Festival Sampler features contributions from AL-D & E.T., Captain Captain Cutie Pie, Aryk Crowder, Indie Chris, *repeat repeat, The Upper Middle & We Speak in Colors.

Listen below, or download the entire sampler by registering for the Nashville Fringe Festival’s newsletter.

(Additional credits: Downtown Nashville skyline image courtesy of Giovanni Rodriguez. “DON’T NEED ANYBODY” is a B-Side off *repeat repeat’s upcoming album Floral Canyon. “Truth Will Wreck” courtesy of Laura Lynn Williams, Captain Captain Cutie Pie Music 2014. We Speak in Colors is: Andrew Armstrong. “Train That’s Passed” features Mercy Bell and was produced by Mike Marsh at Paper Mill Studio in East Nashville, TN [wespeakincolors.com].)

2015 Valentine’s Day Fringe

The 2015 Valentine’s Day Fringe video runs through a slideshow featuring friends and family of the Fringe, accompanied by “Love That Never Ages” by *repeat repeat, from the group’s 2014 release, Bad Latitude.

The video also features public domain footage from Penny Serenade and Love Affair.

[Photo of the Nixons by Paul Rowland Photography, courtesy of Jeremy Nixon. Photo of *repeat repeat by Amber Davis, courtesy of Kristyn Corder.]

2014 Holiday Fringe

The first video of our Holiday Fringe series features winter views of Nashville with “A Christmas to Remember” by The Saturns.

Our second video runs through a holiday-themed slideshow, featuring friends and family of the Fringe, accompanied by “Christmas Ain’t Christmas” by Markey Blue.

The final video of this year’s holiday-themed trio takes a look back at just 30 of the wonderful performers who took the stage at Nashville Fringe Festival events this past year. This final video features “We Three Kings” by Magic in Threes, which appears on GED Soul’s Super Soul Xmas EP.

Churchyard: Collaborative to the Core

Churchyard at Mercy Lounge 03

“[With Dead Legs] I learned how to front a band and be comfortable on stage,” writes Churchyard‘s Meghan D’Amico via email, the vocalist and guitarist reflecting on her time in the now-defunct four-piece. “Churchyard is different from Dead Legs because we are a band,” she continues. “We are both intentional and collaborative with our song writing.” The resulting sounds have been described as “lo-fi, grungy garage pop with more than a hint of ’60s psych, surf pop influence,” where Dead Legs’ sound blended “the Duke Spirit, the Dead Weather, Polly Jean Harvey and maybe a dash of the moodiness of the Dum Dum Girls all spliced together in some sort of Frankenstein experiment gone right.” When asked what the band was aiming for with the Ben Spinks-produced demos they released in late-2013, D’Amico says: a “very minimal” and “raw” sound. While each descriptor is accurate, they both fail to shed light on the group’s unique musical chemistry. Continue reading Churchyard: Collaborative to the Core

Justin Kalk: A Stiff Necked Rocker

Justin Kalk
photo by Joseph Rini

Reading about Justin Kalk‘s musical development brings to mind something of an artistic trident: the first prong a reverence for the past, strengthened by an early introduction to instruments and past masters, enhanced by a formal musical education; the second, a tendency to experiment and take chances; and the third a dedication to always move forward. Somewhere at a crossroads between each of these elements is the new Justin Kalk Orchestra album, VoLcanO, though in keeping with the latter, despite having just released the new full-length, Kalk is already looking ahead to what’s next.

Speaking of his father via email, Kalk reflects being surrounded by music at an early age, “I remember crawling up to his Gibson 335 and strumming it back when it was taller then I was.” His great uncle taught him how to play lead guitar — early influences that still ring throughout Kalk’s music included Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jeff Beck — and his grandparents would take him to jazz concerts at a young age, introducing him to many of the musicians along the way. While recognizing early on that music was going to be an essential part of his life, looking back Kalk says he had to fully invest himself in music if he was going to make something of his calling. “Berklee just seemed like the most logical next step if I was going to be serious.”

Continue reading Justin Kalk: A Stiff Necked Rocker

The Long Road to Markey Blue

Markey Blue

“I think in life you need to reinvent yourself,” reflects Markey — the namesake and frontwoman of the Nashville blues act Markey Blue — via email. “I don’t believe in being stagnant,” she continues, “[I] always wanna be growing, learning, and getting better at a craft.” However broad the statement, if ever there were a person to which the term “reinvention” could be ascribed, it’s Markey. The band’s debut album, Hey Hey, started with a meeting between Markey and guitarist Ric Latina, conceptually evolving from a four-track EP to a full-length release, and in the process morphing from a more traditional blues sound into a self-described genre bending “New Indie Soul/Blues” mix. “I had to re-learn how to sing. My gut bucket belting was not gonna work for this project. And Ric, holy cow he really worked to find different sounds for this album.” Markey’s history of reinvention runs far deeper than this most recent musical shift though, as her journey as an entertainer winds back through country music, the Pacific Northwest, and periods working as both a stand-up comic and impressionist, which all kicked off at the age of 19 when she became the youngest chorus member among one of Las Vegas’ premier dance troops.

Continue reading The Long Road to Markey Blue

Hide Your Mamas: Energy, Creativity & Irreverence

Hide Your Mamas

“You really only have to look at our song titles or the outfits we wear on stage to see that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says keyboardist Zack Moscow. “We have great fun writing and playing music together and that’s what [Hide Your Mamas] is all about.”

The three-piece instrumental group delivers a sound self-described as packing “the punch of rock and roll with the nuances of jazz improv,” leaving the band at a crossroads between electro-jam and intergalactic space funk. “I hope that when people come to our shows or listen to our music that they can feed off of our energy and creativity and irreverence!”

Moscow grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, later spending a few years in Philadelphia before heading to Nashville in 2008 to “give things a shot in the music business.” Despite growing up on the Rolling Stones, Los Lobos, and Elvis Costello through his parents’ record collection, developing as a classical/concert pianist in his youth, then taking an interest in playing funk and jazz, once in Nashville he found himself playing with the “country-fried rock and roll band” Williamson Black.

The band didn’t really go anywhere, but it did introduce Moscow to bassist Tyler Boone. “During breaks Tyler and I would stay in the jam room and fool around with riffs and song ideas that were a little, umm, outside of the country rock box.” As Williamson Black came to an end the duo formally gave birth to this direction by starting Hide Your Mamas, eventually landing drummer Jared Rauso to fill out the trio. “The first time the three of us jammed together I knew we had the right guy on the drums.”

Last year Hide Your Mamas issued its first release, a seven-song self-titled EP that the group intends on building off of with its forthcoming debut LP. The music is nothing if not playful — a tone that carries through a track list which features titles such as “Don’t Menstruate Me” and “Drunk Monk.” That isn’t to say that the songs aren’t the product of hard work though. “We wanted songs that found complex arrangements and inspired complex emotions from an initial (relatively simple) riff or two,” says Moscow. “Most importantly, we wanted songs that left us room to think on the fly and express ourselves in a different way each time we played them.”

The as-yet-untitled full-length is set to incorporate a few tracks from the EP, though the focus is definitely on exploring new sounds and a new direction. “I think the demo captured the spirit of our music but didn’t have the polish (and more importantly from my perspective, the continuity and energy and feel of our live show) that we really wanted.”

Hide Your Mamas will be performing live at The End Saturday, August 9, with Quiet Entertainer Orchestra and Dilly Power. Click here to read the full Q&A with Zack Moscow, or connect with the band on Facebook or Twitter.

Hide Your Mamas The End 2014

Greg Bryant: Watchman on a Mission

Greg Bryant Bassist

Born in Nashville, Greg Bryant dabbled with piano in his youth, but was primarily introduced to music by immersing himself in his parents’ record collection. “My education has been [through] listening to a lot of records,” he says, reflecting on those early years via email. “And, I mean a lot of them.” In his teens, Bryant began sharing his love of music with others, taking on his first radio position at age 15 where he began working with a local college station. “Turning people on to the great masters of the music is a special responsibility I feel I’ve been given,” he says. “So doing broadcasts and getting involved with radio was a natural step.” Transitioning into the role of player a few years later (when he picked up the bass while attending MTSU), Bryant’s relationship with music — and particularly jazz — has since become layered, landing him at the intersection between musician and champion.

“[A]s I was around the music more and more,” he continues, “it forced me to want — or created the need — to participate and make music.” The Human Sound and the Cornerstone Jazz Trio marked his first attempts at playing with bands while still in college, each allowing him to gain perspective as a player while he continued to pursue broadcasting. “We investigated a lot of the classic jazz repertoire,” he says of those early groups, “but not always in the classic way.” After graduating he relocated to Chicago to pursue his studies, a move that would impact his relationship with music for years to come.

“Strangely enough,” says Bryant, “aside from a few jam sessions, I didn’t play much in Chicago.” The larger city did give him more opportunities to see and hear influential jazz musicians in the live setting, however, which further solidified within him an urge to not only continue investing himself in the genre, but hone his own sound. An internship in Washington, D.C. followed, which only further ingrained within Bryant a new direction which he would take his music. “The players were way better [than] I was and played with more fire than I had been accustomed to,” he says, relating the period to something of a musical baptism. “The way the drummers swing on the east coast continues to be intense and playing with that rhythm changed me.”

After briefly returning to Chicago, Bryant headed back south in 2004, where he transitioned his new experiences back into performing and broadcasting. He later took on a position with Middle Tennessee Public Radio — then branded JAZZ 89 — while quickly re-establishing himself musically by opening up shop with a pair of new groups in Nashville. The Greg Bryant Quintet was formed with saxophonists Reagan Mitchell and Chris West, guitarist Brian Mesko, and drummer Jason Hoffheins, while Concurrence took form as an improv duo, featuring Bryant alongside pianist Paul Horton. While on one hand the Quintet allowed for a blend between new compositions and covers, Concurrence presented itself as a way to experiment more with sound. “Paul is my musical soul mate,” says Bryant. “We can just show up on the stage and start playing. No tunes or anything. And it will end up in places that inspire us both.”

While Concurrence remains a part-time project, and he has performed, recorded, and toured with numerous other acts since, following the dissolution of the Quintet, Bryant began forming ideas for what would eventually take form as the shapeshifting Greg Bryant Expansion in 2008. “I like to groove as well as swing — and while I don’t like the connotations of ‘jam band’ either — I wanted to make music and play before a diverse audience, definitely including younger folks and people in my generation.” The new group has seen a revolving roster of players, with the consistent being a soft musical focus, allowing for “[improv] and groove as well as swing.” Last year the Expansion released its debut EP, featuring six songs recorded live-to-tape, as performed by Bryant, James DaSilva, Paul Horton, and Joshua Hunt. The Equal Ground blog called the set a product of “incredibly talented musicians flexing their muscles for six songs showing you guitar, bass, piano and drum work people will be in awe of.”

While his radio broadcasting days are now behind him, Bryant continues to represent the scene via the digital airwaves, as in 2013 he resurrected his “Watchman” moniker when he founded the JazzWatch Podcast. And not unlike his position as a jazz advocate, Greg Bryant’s role as a musician continues to evolve and expand. “Simply put — music is about vibrations,” he says, “and to allow them to pass through you creatively and instinctively is a big responsibility. It’s not a job, but more like a calling or a mission.”

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The Greg Bryant Expansion will be performing Saturday, July 5 at the Nashville Downtown Partnership’s Art Crawl (5th Avenue North at The Arcade in front of The Arts Company, 6:00 – 9:00 pm). Click here to read the Fringe’s extended Q&A with the bassist.

To connect with Greg, follow him on Facebook or listen to his JazzWatch Podcast.