INTERVIEW: Kim Nalley Conjures a Charm of Music in SHE PUT A SPELL ON ME – KIM NALLEY SINGS NINA SIMONE June 14-July 17 at RRazz Room


Preparing for her 5-week residency at the RRazz Room in the Hotel Nikko (222 Mason at O'Farrell), Kim Nalley, along with long-time collaborator Tammy Hall, brings a tribute to Nina Simone with SHE PUT A SPELL ON ME - KIM NALLEY SINGS Nina Simone, June 14-July 17. I had the opportunity to e-terview Nalley and Hall recently about the project and have discussed it with them over the past couple of months. Below you'll find the e-terview.

Mike Ward: Kim, you've recorded an album of Nina Simone's works with Tammy Hall, She Put a Spell On Me - Kim Nalley Sings Nina Simone, which was short-listed for a 2006 Grammy. The passion and commitment you have for maintaining her hallmark of excellence is apparent. What did the process of track selection look like, given the breadth of work Simone has?

Kim Nalley: Houston Person helped with the selection. I had so much great material recorded that I wanted to put out a double CD. Houston told me to hold off on the double CD for MY tribute album.

MW: Audiences are going to have the rare treat of hearing you both bring forth the rich legacy of Simone's work when SHE PUT A SPELL ON ME - KIM NALLEY SINGS Nina Simone, plays the RRazz June 14 - July 17. We talked about what the evenings would look like, that there would be variation, different tunes would be rotated in, giving audiences yet another reason to come back. Will there be a set group of songs that stay the same through the full run?

KN: The number of songs we know is so enormous that my job is cutting down the list! Right now I'm down to 45 or 50 and I suspect we will add some others out of thin air on the spot. I am going to group the tunes so that the earlier weeks in the run are more Early Jazzier Nina and the later weeks will have more Later Funkier Nina. There are some tunes that are unavoidable but I really like to tailor the evening to the audience, my mood and the band's mood. Other than that, because I'll be tracing the history, it will be roughly chronological.

MW: Tammy, I was listening to "I Shall Be Released" on YouTube and loved how your voice blended beautifully with Kim's. Most people are used to you playing and not singing, so it's a lovely surprise. Will you be joining in singing during the run?

Tammy Hall: Yes, I will, certainly on "I Shall Be Released" and we all (the band) sing backgrounds on 'Mississippi Goddamn", "Do I Move You", and a couple other songs.

MW: Kim, something I greatly admire about you is the in-depth research you put in when you begin to work on an artist's repertoire. It truly does bring an added dimension to your take on a song. What were some of the surprises or intriguing facts that stood out most for you when you researched Nina Simone? And how did that color your interpretation?

KN: We have a couple of interpretations for any given song in the bag and I might call a different, key or tempo or time signature on the spot depending on how the evening's feel. Musically, I like to be loose, in the moment, able to go anywhere at any time. Beyond that I try to concentrate on the history. Bandleaders all have stage patter, and we all have stories about what the song means to us. What I try to do differently is historicize it within the time of our ancestors. So to get back to your question about intriguing facts, Nina used to make SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) members stand up in the audience. So when she sang "Stand up and be counted with all of the rest," she was telling us to be part of the struggle.

MW: Kim & Tammy, I've had the honor of you two playing an intimate concert. I am captivated by the synergy you two possess when collaborating - an unspoken knowingness that both heightens and deepens the work at hand. What is it that the other person has that brings your work to a more rich level?

KN: Trust, humility, listening, responding and chops!

TH: I am grateful everyday for the opportunity we have to work together. The best expression of the friendship and love between us is when we perform together. I cherish very much the trust and confidence Kim has in me as her accompanist and I do my best to keep it!

MW: Kim, aside from an evening of exceptional music performed by exquisite artists, what do you hope that audiences will walk away knowing or feeling after each show?

KN: Peace of Mind.

Catch Kim Nalley and Tammy Hall in SHE PUT A SPELL ON ME - KIM NALLEY SINGS Nina Simone, June 14-July 17, 2011, at the RRazz Room in the Hotel Nikko (222 Mason Street at O'Farrell). Various show times/prices. Please visit for specific show info or for more info about Kim or to order the cd.


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