In spite of her mind-numbingly busy schedule, Nikki Glaspie was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with L4LM’s B.Getz. The old friends touch on several topics: Nesta, Nthfectious, being a facilitator and a magic maker in the music scene today. Nikki shares more than a musical attitude here. She shares gems, wisdom, perspective, humor, and a whole lotta love, too. There’s a heaping portion of Jazz Fest stoke included below, as nobody Lives for Live NOLA more than darling Nikki.
Nikki Glaspie: No problem, B. Good to hear from you.
L4LM: I’ve seen on the interwebs that your schedule is already nuts, and it ain’t even Jazz Fest yet. Let me be brief and cut straight to the chase—You were in New Orleans for an extended run recently, so just tell me a little bit about getting back to the city.
Nikki Glaspie: I mean, I was down there in March playing with Tephra Sounds, which is a new band that I have with Helen Gillett, Brian Haas, and Jessica Lurie, and it’s pretty awesome, I love it. Sometimes we have Skerik and Alex Massa too. It’s just improvisational music, you know, we play whatever comes to mind. I can’t wait to get back to New Orleans. New Orleans is like my second home, definitely my spiritual home, my spiritual hub, you know, so I am excited to get back down there and I have a gazillion gigs [giggles].
L4LM: Yeah I saw. As usual, I have seen your name everywhere. You get up to get down in the Big Easy during Fest. We seent it for years. Going hard in the paint again!
Nikki Glaspie: So yeah, we will see how that goes. It’s always a real good time with the people I love.
L4LM: I know people are really anxious to see all the things you are going to do at Jazz Fest this year. I didn’t know about Helen Gillet until recently, thanks to you. I saw you and Brian Haas post about her, and went to her page to peep game and she looks like a badass. I saw that Eddie Van Halen cello, I was like “Man! So dope.”
Nikki Glaspie: Yes, she is killin. KILLIN! And I love her. She is awesome; a great musical talent but really a beautiful soul as well, you know. Really I feel that’s what makes the music, more than anything, ya know?
L4LM: Definitely. Well, if she’s hanging with you and Brian, she’s going to be a killin’ player and cool person for sure. We know this.
L4LM: I’m anxious to ask you about that special Bob Marley extravaganza, you’re calling it Wake Up & Live, with The Nth Power and Friends, the first weekend on Saturday night. As you know the Earth, Wind and Power—that Maurice White night (the original engagement at One Eyed Jack’s, over Jazz Fest 2016)—gig is maybe one of my favorite three concerts attended, all time. We will talk a little bit about that redux, too, but I want to talk about the Marley thing. How did you guys shift your focus to pick that iconic songbook? What’s the thinking there, with the Bob vibes, and why now?
Nikki Glaspie: Well, I think the main reason why we picked that was because of the message. I mean, especially what this country is going through right now, you know, it’s like we need it more than anything. Bob, he hits the nail right on the head. It’s been proven for years, you know what I mean? Every word still rings true. We are just hoping to remind people of that. That we have to band together to make a change, if we hope to make a change. We have to work together and put our differences aside. And that’s the thing; we really don’t have that many differences. We get it mixed up. You know, everyone is trying to do the same thing. We are all trying to do the same thing: provide for their family, provide for the ones that they love and live a happy life and that’s what everyone is trying to do. If you go to Japan, that’s what people are doing. Wherever in the world, people are doing the same things. People are working for their families, working to bring food home and take care of their kids. It doesn’t matter where you are. It’s the same thing and the same concept. We are just trying to get that message across to people all of the time. It’s like we all bleed the same red, you know? You cut me open, I’m the same color as you, you know what I’m saying? It’s so ridiculous, it’s 2017, you know?
L4LM: Yes indeed Nikki. I know. WE KNOW. And I’d follow you to the gates of . . . regardless, sister, but I think everyone can identify with this message, like you said, and everybody deep down really wants what Nesta stood for. What he sang for. There’s a lot of fun songbooks and cool artist tributes you can do for a variety of different reasons, but you’ve taken a serious cultural situation and climate, and are addressing it in a way, full of love and bliss but compassion, empathy and understanding. Respect.
Moving on, Nate Edgar, Nth’s phenomenal bassist, and formerly with John Brown’s Body, we already know has got those fat Family Man dubby bass lines ready to go, and we know how dynamic a frontman and guitarist Nicky Cake Cassarino is, but what else y’all got cookin’ for this? Tell us about the other players? Are you guys going to rework the tunes out of the reggae style? What can people expect from the music?
Nikki Glaspie: Well I mean the thing is, we always have a cast of characters. We are always excited to play Jazz Fest because of that. It’s like everybody’s down there, and we get to play with cats we wouldn’t normally get to play with otherwise, so we got Brian Haasand Rob Marscher, two great keyboard players that I love. From way back in the day, from Addison Groove Project, Rob was in A.G.P., and we got Brian from Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. We got Cyril Neville singing with us. I mean, Cyril is the man. You know. Theoriginal Don Dada, just a legend. And we got Skerik, who is like my husband (laughs), then we actually have my husband, Adam Joseph, which I am really excited to kind of introduce to the scene. We have been making music together since I was like 18, and he’s been all over the place. He’s been in Poland, Europe, touring around the world, both playing and producing music.
L4LM: His debut album, you produced it?
Nikki Glaspie: Yeah, we co-produced it. And then the second album as well, just came out, like last year called Love Philosophy, but a lot of people don’t know who he is. He is, you know, one of my writing partners. We have been making music for a really long time but he’s just never been in the scene, so I am really excited for him to be here this year with us and singing on that show. He’s also going to be involved with the Earth, Wind and Power show that we are bringing back, so everyone needs to seriously look out for Adam Joseph, because he’s one of the greatest singers I know. Really, super excited about that. and also we got Andrew “Da Phessa” Baham, who I have known for a long time too. We went to Berkelee together, and, you know, we never really get to do stuff together, so I called him up like “Bro, you want to play this gig?” and he said “Of course,” so again, that is the great thing about Jazz Fest. We haven’t played music together in like twelve years, so just being able to do that is . . . is awesome. It’s a great feeling, you know?
We also got Shira Elias from Turkuaz and (Erin) Boyd from Phantom Vanity, singing background and again, a lot of people don’t know who Erin is, which is awesome. They are going to find out! It’s just great all around. Oh, and Weedie (Braimhah)…everyone knows Weedie…and we’ve got Raja (Kassis)!
L4LM: Oh yeah, that’s right. Raja is everywhere. Here, there, then over to Africa, New York, NOLA. I love Antibalas. That dude is getting around and getting up!
Nikki: Yeah, Raja is super killing it.
L4LM: That is an arsenal, that krewe right there.
Nikki: Yeah, I mean we got a krewe, man. We Got. A krewe.
L4LM: And clearly you take a lot of pride in breaking artists like Adam Joseph and Erin Boyd to a new audience like us, because you know we will appreciate them, so if you can put them out there, you like to do that. I can tell over the years that you get a lot of pride and happiness by bringing other cats into the scene. I love that about you Nikki. You are a facilitator.
Nikki Glaspie: Yeah absolutely, all the time. That’s always something we like to do is introduce people to the scene. The scene is always looking for fresh faces, fresh talent, you know, we got plenty of it. We got talent for days man. Days. That is the other great thing about music in general: it’s just the gift that keeps on giving. It never stops, you know, there’s always musicians all over the place that are amazing that haven’t been seen or heard enough, you know?.
L4LM: Absolutely. I love that about the scene, there’s always somebody new getting nice and getting noticed. But also it’s a small world and it feels like an extended family after all these Jazz Fests. Its funny you brought up Addison Groove Project and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, plus Raja Kassis (Antibalas), as the first time I ever saw any of y’all was the same place, BerkFest in 2002, you were rocking with Sam Kinninger Band (ex-Lettuce, Soulive) at that time. It’s really cool to see y’all get back together like that and do it. Some full circle type shit right there. Back to the essence of where this whole scene took shape in the Northeast, back where it all began, for me atleast.
Nikki: Yeah, I mean it’s almost like serendipitous. That’s what it feels like and also what I was saying before about everyone needing to band together and I mean, that’s exactly what we have in the band, you know? The band is people from all different bands and all walks of life, with the same intention; we are actively displaying what we are trying to get across to people, you know what I mean?
L4LM: Yeah, I totally know what you mean. That’s got us psyched, inspired, and is moving just to hear you talk about it like that. Let’s check in on some other hits. I see you have something with the band and Nigel, the Nthfectious, at the Leaf super late one night second weekend. How cool is that? Again, going back where it all began. With Adam Joseph in the mix, too. That one is going to be special.
Nikki Glaspie: We’re just playing music, man… you know, that’s it. Music. It’s all about the music. B, you know we also have Viveca Hawkins on that gig?
L4LM: Oh yeah! I saw that. I didn’t mean to exclude her. I see her out and about, here in the Bay all the time. Been waiting on the rest of the world to find out about her. Love Viveca. MIZZ HAWKINS! She most definitely does her thang, and looks real good doin’ it, too.
Nikki: Yeah she was just singing with Dumpstaphunk last week, you know, she can sing it all. She’s really great. Known her a long time too. And she’s going to be singing with us too during Jazz Fest. And of course, wherever Dumpstaphunk is, you know I’m not far away. That’s family.
L4LM: I am looking forward to that too. You’ve got that extra funkafied gear behind the kit with Dumpsta. I know that krewe was a gamechanger for you, and still is. There’s so much to see down there at Jazz Fest, gotta do your best to catch the most jams, but can’t stress over what you miss. Jazz Fest has a special brand of FOMO that can eat you alive. Right now, I think I am seeing four of your hits over the nine days, so not bad, not bad.
Nikki: Yeah, that’s pretty good man. I appreciate that. I want to add that I am also doing some gigs with Zack Starkey. Do you know him? Played drums with The Who most recently. He is Ringo Starr’s son, and he is just ridiculous. He also plays guitar, so we are taking him to do a bunch of stuff. We are doing the late night Maple Leaf, and the hits at the Carver Theatre. We are doing something for Peter Tosh because it’s the 40th anniversary of Legalize It. We got Cyril on that too.
L4LM: Okay one last thing that I am asking everybody who I am interviewing about Jazz Fest: Other than your own hits, what would you be most stoked about if you could go see anything during Fest this year?
Nikki Glaspie: Man, you know, Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder at the Fairgrounds, Frankie Beverly at the Fairgrounds with Maze. And the whole Cuba coming to New Orleans, like that entire thing, all that Cuba stuff that’s coming. I want to see all of that. I honestly don’t know what I am going to be able to see, because I am working so much. I also want to see Sput Searight, he has the whole night at theNile one night. I honestly don’t think I have a day off though. So we’ll see.
L4LM: Well just know in your heart, no matter how tired you might get, that we appreciate you and all the things you do for us, for the art, for the culture, and for the love. I just want to pay you respect, Darling Nikki, and a tribute to you because before I was your friend, I was a big fan, and best believe still am a big fan. It’s so beautiful to see you step into yourself as an artist over the past 15ish years, now to hear you spit rhymes on the mic or lead singing, or just really pushing the drum envelope in your own special way. You are somebody we are really proud to call one of us; in the vibe, scene, I love you, and I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that.
Nikki Glaspie: Aw, well thanks. I am really honored as well, man. It is just an honor. For a long time, I was not really a part of the scene- like when I started my professional career, playing with Sam (Kinninger) and then going and playing with Beyonce for five years all over the world. I am just grateful for the scene because I came back from playing with Beyonce and I joined Dumpstaphunk. Everybody, all the fans and people really welcomed me with open arms, and I am really grateful because I wouldn’t be able to do it without you guys, without the fans, without all the music lovers, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this music, and we really express ourselves out there.
You know, I am thankful for people lending their ear, to want to listen, to hear what we have to say and that is very special. A lot of people ask me all the time you know, “how do I get into that scene?” and I’m like “you just, you know, I’m very blessed to be in it” I don’t even really know how to tell somebody how to be in it, you know. Just come down and play music, and get familiar with everyone, that’s really all it is. It’s a family. It’s a community. And I am grateful.
L4LM: I feel the same way, to be a part of it from another side, and to bring more people into the circle. It seems like you’re doing that, bringing new faces to the community, so hopefully in a few weeks, we will have some new family members after Jazz Fest.
Nikki Glaspie: And one more thing to mention, I am really super excited about is we always do our gig on Monday night after Jazz Fest is over, at the Nile.
L4LM: Yes! Nikki, that’s tradition now. That Monday Nile hit post Fest is the best, because everyone is done working, and it’s mainly just players and people who are involved from the inside out. Extended fam, musicians, the heart of the community that is still there, and still functional, is at your Monday Nile gig.
Nikki Glaspie: Yeah, most of the crowd is players and that’s the thing. That is what I wanted. What we intended. Everybody is working so hard, for like two weeks, I just want to have a night where everyone can really hang out and chill, really vibe, you know? I am super excited, because we have Cheryl Pepsi Riley coming down and singing with us that night of the Nile gig. If anybody doesn’t know her, I mean, she is one of the greatest singers. She is just so incredible. I don’t even have the words to express how incredible she is. Anyone who has seen her before, knows how incredible she is, so that’s another person I am very happy to be bringing down and exposing to everyone because they need to know who this woman is. She has a voice of an angel.
L4LM: Sweet, well it’s tradition to end with that Monday at The Nile. And Ms. Riley sounds perfect for the final throwdown.
Nikki: The last hoorah!
L4LM: The last hoorah! Yes indeedy. Thanks Nikki for the time, the words, the wisdom, the beats! See you in the Crescent City.
Nikki: No problem, B.
As told to B.Getz