Kim Nalley, She Put A Spell On Me!
Deb Gillespie Interview with Kim Nalley for Dorothy's Closet

The beautiful and sassy Kim Nalley will be coming to The Rrazz Room. Kim Nalley Sings Nina Simone! Dorothy and Toto are so excited about the show that we had to get an interview with this remarkable woman.

Her "award-winning tribute, a mix of history, multimedia and song, was first performed by Ms. Nalley weeks after Nina Simone's death, recorded live and turned into a riveting album "She Put A Spell On Me: Kim Nalley sings Nina Simone," which was short listed for a 2006 Grammy Award."

Kim Nalley has an international reputation as being one of the world's best jazz & blues vocalists. This brilliant singer has been awarded as one of the "Most Influential African Americans in the Bay Area". With her amazing vocal range (3 1/2 octave), she can go from operatic to gritty blues on a dime.

Ms. Nalley has charisma and style, not to mention a great sense of humor. When describing to us her connection to the community, Kim remarked that "One of my closest musical connections to the gay community was forged as a regular performer at the Alta Plaza. It was an upscale gay restaurant and bar. My shows were so popular that ex-lovers quarreled about who had rights to my night. "I was the one who introduced you. So it is mine!" True but you never went there, I was the one there every Tuesday. So it is mine!" MTT recorded our closing night, Mark Leno presented me with an award. Those were some of the most fabulous nights of my life."

If you have not yet heard Kim Nalley sing, you are missing out on something very special. Don't let this spectacular opportunity to hear a musical legend pass you by. Kim Nalley will be performing for five weeks at The Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko from June 14 through July 17, 2011.

Interview with Kim Nalley

Kim, you originally studied piano and opera in New England. What influenced your decision to relocate to San Francisco and then subsequently switch your musical genre to Jazz?

Ma-Ma (my great-grandmother) taught me piano basics. It wasn�t classical piano, it was just home schooling. I studied Classical Voice and Theater at ECA -- things such as Gilbert & Sullivan.

In regards to moving out West, I thought San Francisco was really hip, diverse, forward thinking. (A large GLBT population is always a good gauge of a city's culture. ) And I wanted to attend UC Berkeley. I switched majors from Music to History when I moved. Why bother going into debt to study Classical when I could support myself singing Jazz? I could sing and scat Jazz naturally without lessons, but for a Classical career, I needed lots of lessons. My vibrato was too wide. My volume was too loud. And my range was mezzo-soprano, which basically means a lowly alto with a soprano�s attitude. And of course there is the problem of corporeal presence. Stage auditions are often a humiliating, racist, sexist process designed to fill roles that are stereotypes of the director�s fantasy. There aren�t many lead roles for curvy ethnic mezzos. I�m much happier singing what I want to sing, the way I want to sing it, and in the key I sing it best in. In this sense, Jazz is Freedom.

You were raised in a tough city to grow up in. How much of an influence did music play in your life as a young girl to enable you to stay focused and off the streets?

Getting beat up constantly kept me in the house! Singing �Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With That Dixie Melody� was enough to get your derriere kicked in the projects. Once my brother and I hung sheets on the clothesline and tried to put on a show ala Little Rascals but the neighborhood kids just stole our money. I was a real Poindexter growing up. Of course once I came to San Francisco and sang �Rock-a-Bye,� I became a hit quicker than you could say, �There�s no place like home.�

Who were some of your biggest musical influences in the music industry as you were growing up?

I have to admit much of it was culled from TV. I was an unabashed lover of musicals. While most people went to fix themselves a snack, I sat transfixed by the musical numbers and knew that in real life when I grew up my true love would not kiss me first without bursting into song. Back in the days before YouTube, we only had a chance to watch many of these movies once a year or maybe longer in the case of the Disney Vault.

There also seems to be a definite break between the music I consciously sought out as an adult or other musicians hipped me to once I started becoming a professional versus the things I grew up with as a child. I was fascinated by without necessarily realizing that it was jazz, promoted jazz culture or was written by the same composers who have written the vast body of music that have become standards in jazz. Therefore, I am going to limit this list to music I listened to before age 16.

1. "Over the Rainbow" by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz"

2. "I'm In the Mood For Love" by Darla and Alfalfa in "The Little Rascals"

3. "Blues in the Night" by Beaky Buzzard in "Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid"

4. "I Love to Singa" by Owl Jolson in the "Merry Melodies" cartoon of the same name

5. "Stormy Weather" by Lena Horne

6. "Live at Newport" by Nina Simone (My mother played this shellac 78 a lot, and I when I left the house I stole it!)

7. "We've Only Just Begun" by Monty Alexander (My great-grandmother loved Monty and had everything he ever issued.)

8. "Babes in Arms" (the movie) Actually, any Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie, but this one subliminally programmed me to be a performer.
Horace Silver and the live music played at the yearly Portuguese Picnic in Connecticut

9. "Birth of the Blues" (It was sung by someone like Leslie Uggums or Mabel King or Jenny Jefferson on a jazz-themed episode of "Fantasy Island." I learned that song and become fascinated with the Jazz Era after that.)

* For a complete list of Kim's early influences, you can go to her blog

How do you feel about some of the newer styles of music being created nowadays? Do you feel some will stay around for generations to come or do you see more of it being a fad?

Hip Hop was around when I was a kid, so the only new style I can think of is ambient lounge? I don�t care for ethereal trance over electronic drum loops, although I can understand why people find it popular. We are constantly bombarded with media and information, and so that type of sparse music can be soothing for many people. I don�t believe it is enough of an earworm to be remembered for generations to come. However, I wouldn�t put down the music they play when I get my massage just because it might not be remembered generations from now. If it is healing me now and brings me pleasure then it is good. That is the purpose of music. In terms of what will stand the test of time, it is not just what is worth preserving but also how things are preserved. For all we know all digital music will be unplayable centuries from now, and the only old music the �Futurians� are able to access is on albums. Don�t laugh! Who has an 8-track-player anymore?

History is an important aspect in your music and your life. How are you able to bring your love of history into your shows?

I just try to tell folks the story of the song, the story of the artist and the times that gave birth to that cultural expression. Sometimes it is history, sometimes it's herstory and sometimes it's songstory. Although I have an academic life, I like to relate history in a really accessible way outside of school and art is a great tool to accomplish this goal. For example, during my first Nina Simone tribute I explained to the audience the origins of the song Mississippi Goddamn! That inspired artist Jeremy Sutton to paint a portrait of Nina Simone that included the faces of the little little girls killed in the 16th Street Church bombings and assassinated civil rights worker Medgar Evers. Now Mr. Sutton graciously loans the painting for display during my Nina Simone concerts, which in turn helps the audience understand our history better.

You will be covering Nina Simone�s catalog in your upcoming show at the Rrazz Room. With songs ranging from jazz and show tunes to folk and spirituals. What was it about Nina Simone that first inspired you to put together this tribute to her?

The first Nina Simone tribute was directly in response to her death. Jazz is about honoring your ancestors and there is a tradition of playing the music of an artist immediately after they die. The jazz community has two funerals. One is for the family and another is a musical funeral played by many people in many places all over the world to send the deceased on their journey to play in the big all-star jam session in the sky. So in short, we put together this tribute at the last minute and there was such an overwhelming response that we had to do it again, and again.

Who do you have planned to accompany for the show?

Nina was a genius pianist, so it will take two of us to even come close to one of her. Tammy Hall, my dear friend and an amazing pianist, will be my other half for the show. Like Nina she has a classical and gospel background, although she did sneak out when her grandmother wasn�t looking to listen to the devil�s music --jazz and blues! She, like myself, grew up on Nina Simone. Also joining us is our special guest from New York Greg Skaff on guitar (Gloria Lynn, Wicked, Rent, Stanley Turrentine, Ruth Brown) and my longtime band of Michael Zisman (George Coleman, Caf� Americano, Fathead Newman, Clark Terry) on the bass and Kent Bryson (Maria Muldaur, Ernestine Anderson, Houston Person) on the drums.

What are your plans for after the show closes, a vacation or perhaps another project in the works?

I�m working on my PhD in history at UC Berkeley so I have a lot on my plate. Papers to write, presentations, teaching, a new CD to record, shows in Italy, Iowa, Christmas, New Year's ... Whew! I get tired just thinking about it all. I just try to concentrate on being present in the moment and giving the audience everything I have that night.

For tickets and information on Kim Nalley's show call 800.380.3095 or go to

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