Jazz and blues come together in Nancy Wright’s saxophone sound
September 9, 2010
Nancy Wright has the blues … and she couldn’t be happier about that. Indeed, the Ohio-raised, Bay Area-based tenor sax player boasts impressive blues credentials, having played in John Lee Hooker’s band and shared the stage with the likes of Albert King, Albert Collins, Debbie Davies and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Those years stand Wright in good stead on her first jazz release, last year’s “Moanin’,” on Chicken Coup Records. The disc finds Wright lending a distinctly bluesy touch to such standards as the title track and “When Sunny Gets Blue” as well as four original tunes.
You can catch Wright and kick off your weekend in style when her trio performs at 11:45 a.m. Friday at Cheeseboard Pizza, 1512 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. In the meantime, here’s what the saxophonist had to say about her work.
Question: Let’s talk about the crossroads where blues and jazz meet. Lee Hildebrand’s liner notes make a strong case for the idea that blues can be an awesome training ground for jazz sax (I was particularly pleased that he included Stanley Turrentine, a favorite of mine). But what about you – what specific contribution did years of playing blues make to the sound of the new album?
Wright: The biggest contribution from blues on the CD is probably in my tone and approach – the big tone, the “grease,” the melodic approach. Lonnie (Mack) received the copy of “Moanin'” I sent him and called with some nice comments. I mentioned to Lonnie I stole licks from him and he said in his early days he stole a lot of his stuff from sax and organ players. So what goes around comes around…
Question: There’s almost as much Hammond B-3 on some of these tracks as there is sax. Discuss, if you will, the musical chemistry you have with Tony Monaco, both as an organ player and producer.
Wright: I love the sax/Hammond combo sound and I love Tony’s playing. He’s got heat and heart, as well as amazing chops and sound plus incredible control. I had played with Tony a few times in the past and knew I wanted to play with him again. However, geography made that difficult (Tony is based in Columbus, Ohio). But when Tony launched his Chicken Coup label, I realized that might provide an opportunity for me to work with Tony again. So I approached Tony about producing the CD and backing me with his trio.
I can’t say enough good things about Tony as a producer and I think the sound and arrangements on the CD testify to that. Also, Tony, Louis (Tsamous) and Robert (Kraut) gave 120 percent or more musically in the studio. Tony is a fabulous musician and bandleader/frontman, and he is also a wonderful, versatile, supportive player, incredibly sensitive in his ability to fit what he does to another musician’s style.