Soul provider Nigel Hall is in many ways an artist who needs no introduction. An in-demand sideman, he’s built a mighty foundation of funk over the years onstage and in the studio with collaborators including the Warren Haynes Band, Jon Cleary, Soulive, Oteil Burbridge and Roosevelt Collier, Ledisi, the Soul Rebels, Lettuce and countless others. Legions of fans are already well in the know about Hall’s copious keyboard chops and powerful vocal style. But even to them, his Feel Music/Round Hill debut solo album will be a revelation – a confirmation that Hall has stepped out front and center into a creative space to call his own.
How Music Has Impacted Nigel's Life
Describe your music in three words.
Good old soul.
Good old soul, I like it! So Nigel, where is home, and is there any particular song that reminds you of home?
Home is Washington, D.C. Hmm, that’s a hard question…
When you were growing up, did you listen to a certain type of music?
Oh yeah! I guess when I listen to George Duke, I’m home. George Duke is my favorite keyboard player. I grew up in D.C. listening to him so that’s kind of where the whole thing for me started.
I read that you grew up in a musical family and started playing the keys early on?
I was 4, and I went to my grandmother’s house that had this great big old piano, and I pressed a note on it. It made this big sound and I realized I had done that, I caused that sound. It felt really good when I did it. It still feels good.
So you hit the keys at 4 years old and then you just knew right then that you wanted to keep playing the piano? Was there a specific piano influence? Maybe anyone in your family?
No, nobody in my family was a keyboard player, but again, my family grew up or I should say I grew up listening to George Duke with my family, and he was a keyboard player. I didn’t really understand the magnitude of how he did it. Of course I was only 4 at the time, but I knew there was something in me that was doing something differently so I thought this is really cool and I decided “I want to do that!”
And you did it!
Laughing) and I’m still trying to do it…
You are doing it, and doing it well. I also read you grew up with vinyls. Do you have a most prized vinyl, one that’s most sentimental to you?
Yeah, definitely! It’s a George Duke vinyl. One of his records called “Feel.”
It is the first record I ever heard when I first really heard of him. It’s the first record that I did my own research on, not just George Duke, but keyboards, sounds, and stuff like that. I didn’t know keyboards could make those kinds of sounds. So I thought “That’s it!” because the record feels like fire, and I could only get one record at the time so it was going to be that one.
That’s really cool. I also read that you have said the statement, “Music is our way of traveling through time.” Describe your thoughts on that concept. What do you mean when you say that?
I know a lot of people remember their first kiss, and I know they remember what song was playing during their first kiss, or the first time they got beat up, or the first time they went to a concert, the songs they heard during these instances transport them back, you know? These instances can all trigger this thing in your mind where “Oh, this is what happened.” That’s what music does! Music is the last and the only pure thing we have left on this earth. Everything else is majorly efficient. Music will also never lie to you, you know? When you hear music, you have these things that you’re going through in your life, and the music in those specific moments will forever remind you of those particular times. You can see how much you or even the music has changed in that time period, and it’s a beautiful and wonderful thing. I love being a musician. The experience and the memories are why I do this. It’s not the money. The experience, the memories, and how it makes me feel are why I do this. Music is the only thing that can really trigger those memories that are left. You can actually build a time machine, and it probably won’t be as cool as sitting in a room full of records and vinyls and listening to music and bringing back all of these memories. They will come to you, vivid as the day, especially if you have a vivid imagination, like me…but maybe I’m a little crazy… I can say that right?
You can say whatever you want. It all means something. So what influenced you to move to New Orleans?
Real, actual music was invented here, you know? Why not come to the place where the source is…
Very true. When exactly did you move here?
I moved here about 3 years ago.
With that being said, why do you feel music is so important to the people and the culture of New Orleans?
It’s because that is what made this culture. That’s what this culture is built around. It’s built around heritage. Jazz was invented here. Improvisational music, which is music that requires the most use of your mind, was invented here. And it goes beyond music, it goes into the food, it goes into how people dress, how people act. You know, nobody cares about what other people think in this area… it’s just not that kind of place. This is a place where people can actually go to be free, be open, and open their mind. That’s what made me want to live here… I felt free. I knew that I was going to live here before I even moved here. I came here for the first time about 10 years ago, and I said, “I’m going to live here one day.” Everyone said “No you’re not.” I said, “Yes I am,” because I knew it was going to happen. And it happened.
Touché. Allen Toussaint once stated, “Music is everything to me, short of breathing. Music also has the role to lift you up, not to be an escapist, but to take you out of misery.” With that being said, how has music gotten you through some tough moments in life?
Music has always been there for me when other people weren’t. Always. Down to the song, down to the very note, it was always there for me. I know that music, if no one else is there for me my whole life, music will always be there for me. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s one thing I can die knowing, that if all my friends never talk to me again or my wife left me, not that she will and not that my friends will never talk to me again because I’m kind of cool [laughing], but if it ever happens, I know that I will be fine because I am a musician, and music is the very fabric of who I am.
Well said. So I heard you talk about it earlier, about music being the last pure thing left on this earth. Could you go into more detail about your thoughts on this?
You can always sit around a table and talk music with somebody, but you cannot sit around a table and talk politics, you know, you can’t even talk about football. You know I definitely can’t because I’m a Redskins fan, and anybody that loves the Saints doesn’t want to talk to me! [Laughing]
I went to the Saints Redskins game this past season…
Ooooohhhh we got y’all beat badly! [Both laughing] So look, here’s a funny story about that. My wife is a diehard Saints fan, and I’m a Redskins fan…
Is she from here?
She’s from New Orleans, diehard New Orleans. So the first game of our marriage was a Saints/Redskins game, and we beat the Saints bad, 45-14, or something crazy like that. It was a lot of fun though, but no, you can’t always talk about football but you can always talk about music. And if you can’t talk about music with a person, that person is probably dark and you should run away as far and as fast as you can.
[Laughing] I couldn’t agree more. So easy end note… If you got the chance to play one cover tonight, what song would it be and why?
[Laughing] Oh I’m playing it tonight, you can come and see later, but you really want to know?
Yeah we really want to know…
You know what? I have the answer to that first question, I finally have it. The cover is, and we’re playing it tonight, “The Golden Time of Day” by Frankie Beverly and Maze because that song reminds me of… well, the golden time of day! My favorite time was summer in D.C., growing up in Washington. Growing up with my mom… my mom has since passed, and you know, songs like this, music like this, are what make me remember her. It makes it feel like she never left. It’s like I talk to her everyday. I’m closer to my mother now since she’s passed away than I think I ever was when she was alive BECAUSE of the music. Of course it’s sad too. If you ever lose a parent, that’s the next worse thing that could ever happen to you other than death I think. I’m a momma’s boy. I’m one of those boys who can’t be without their mother for more than five minutes, and now, my mother is always around me. It’s like all these years have passed since she’s been gone, but I’ve been playing the music and I’ve been true to the music that I knew I grew up with, that I love, that she loves, and I always think of her. I hear her all the time… and now I need to stop talking about her because I’m starting to get watery eyes. But she has never left because of that, because of the music.
That is truly amazing. And y’all are playing that tonight?
And we are playing it tonight.