Tenor saxophonist Nat Simpkins has done just about everything there is to do in the music business. Besides playing tenor sax (after switching from piano when he was 13), he has been or still is, as the case may be, a producer, a composer, a performer, and co-owner of the record label Bluejay Recordings, which he co-founded with drummer Cecil Brooks III in the late 1990’s.
Simpkins has worked with a number of jazz greats, including Ray Bryant, Joe Henderson, Jay McShann, Grady Tate, and others.
Over the years, Simpkins has released a handful of albums, and the one I want to talk about this time ’round is his 2000 release, “Crescent City.”
The personnel for this one are:
Nat Simpkins, tenor sax
Kermit Ruffins, trumpet and vocals
Jason Marsalis, vibraphone
Tuba Fats, tuba
Peter Martin, piano
Roland Guerin, bass
Cecil Brooks III, drums
“Crescent City” gives us ten songs, six of which Simpkins himself wrote. The others are from various sources.
The title track, the first Simpkins original presented here, kicks things off in a warm, mellow mode. Martin does a lively piano solo, backed by drummer Brooks.
The Louis Alter, Eddie DeLange classic, “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” is up next. The warm notes seem to just roll right out of Simpkins’ sax. Martin once again gets an opportunity to show us his stuff. Indeed, for most of the song we hear only Simpkins, Martin and Brooks.
Next we hear “Latin Lover,” another animated Simpkins original. The gritty sound of Simpkins’ tenor carries this one right along, while Brooks and the rhythm section give it a nice Latin beat. Marsalis makes his first and I believe only appearance in this one, about halfway through and shows himself to be a fine vibraphonist. I really enjoyed this song. It manages to be lively without running at breakneck speed. The guys did a great job with this one.
The next song is probably my favorite from the whole album. That would be “Bayou Blues,” another Simpkins original which I played several times on “Saturday Night Jazz.” “Bayou Blues” gives trumpeter Ruffins an opportunity to try his hand as a vocalist, and he carries it off better than you might expect. Although it is not unheard of for Ruffins to sing, he is at his best when he picks up his trumpet and blows, and “Bayou Blues” gives him amply opportunity to do that also.
One of Count Basie’s classics, “One O’Clock Jump,” follows. Simpkins and Ruffins start this one off in lockstep fashion, then Simpkins steps back and lets his talented trumpeter take the lead for a bit. Before long Simpkins is back in the fray, while Martin and Guerin set a hot pace for all.
“Shake,” from the pen of legendary soul singer Sam Cooke, is up next. Tuba Fats finally gets to strut his stuff here and even gets a nice, if short, solo in the latter half of the song. This one is so lively that it’s hard to believe that the composer, Cooke, was an accomplished gospel singer before he turned to the light and embraced rock. 😉
Next we hear another Simpkins work, “Goodbye Mr T,” presumably an homage to Stanley Turrentine, who died just six months prior to the recording date of “Crescent City.” Like all of Simpkins’ compositions presented here, “Goodbye Mr T” has a light-hearted, upbeat sound to it. Part of that is due, of course, to the big, warm sound of Simpkins’ tenor sax. But even when Martin takes the lead for a bit, we still get that warm, almost bubbly feeling.
“Calypso Carnival,” also from Simpkins, is the last song I’m going to tell you about. This is yet another friendly, bouncy song that with the power to make you feel good for a few minutes, if you’ll only immerse yourself in it.
“Crescent City” from Nat Simpkins would, obviously, make a fantastic addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
To find out more about Nat Simpkins and his music, you can find a brief bio of him for allmusic.com, and there is another, longer one at LetsSingIt.com. You can keep up to date with him on Facebook or LinkedIn, and you can also read more about “Crescent City” on the Bluejay Records web site.
Thank you for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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