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Interview with Bassist Jahmal Nichols, by Vuyani Wakaba

Bassist Jahmal Nichol-1Jahmal Nichols, a St Louis based bassist, composer, arranger and producer, released his new CD – “2 Worlds 1 Mind”.   The CD release party was held at Jazz At The Bistro in St Louis, MO on January 17th & 18th.  This CD release came at the heels of a very busy year for Jahmal in terms of tours, performances and recording sessions.

Bassist Jahmal Nichol-CDFor the CD release, Nichols was supported by stellar cast of musicians that included Jahmal Nichols as the leader/bassist, Andrew Exum on drums, Andre Thomas on keys, Cory James on keys, Eric Slaughter on guitar, Kendrick Smith on sax, and some special guests.

Jahmal is currently spending a month performing in Dubai, an emirate in the United Arab Emirates federation.  His musicianship and work ethic have put his music career on a fast track for success.  As a result, Bass Musician Magazine thought to spend some time getting to know this St. Louis bassist.

Bass Musician Magazine (BMM): Thank you for taking the time to talk to us Jahmal.  You live in St. Louis, a great city for music.  Can you take us to the very beginning and tell us what made you choose the bass as your instrument?

Jahmal Nichols (JN): Thank you guys for having me on here.  St. Louis is where I was born and raised.  The roots of music in that city are very deep, from Miles Davis to Clark Terry to Chuck Berry and so on.  Well, I started playing bass in the summer of 1994, and I was just entering high school and went on from there to win numerous awards in jazz band competitions and so on.

From there I graduated and went to further my education in college at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, NC and at North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC but I didn’t graduate.  I had to leave for financial reasons, and instead of coming back home I took a gig on the cruise ships as the bass player in the show band.  Thank God I knew how to read music – both chord charts and notated charts – because that gig was one of my first times being in a real professional situation where there was no rehearsal, just sit down and play the gig.

I chose the bass as my instrument of choice because of my father, Wayne Nichols.  I come from a family that is very musically inclined.  My dad plays bass, and I learned so much by just watching him even though he never sat down with me one on one and showed me anything.  What he didn’t realize was that every time I watched him do a show, rehearse, or even practice, I was learning something new.

BMM: It sounds like reading music notation and chord charts have been a critical component to your success as a musician.  I’m sure that the musicians that influenced you were just as important in your development.  Among the bassists that influenced you, who would you say had the biggest impact in your development?

JN: I would have to say there were 4 people that influenced my playing the most.  First my father, Wayne Nichols, is a very talented bassist and he also sings.  Before I even picked up a bass, I would sit and watch him play in church and rehearse with the R&B bands he played with.  I would literally play air bass while he was playing, mimicking him from how he looked while he was just laying down the foundation, to when he was making what we call the bass faces…hahahhaha!

Then from there my father introduced me to his biggest influence, and that was James Jamerson.  There’s nothing to be said about Jamerson that hasn’t been said already.  But the first bassline I learned by ear from Jamerson was the Bass line to “Don’t Mess With Bill”.

From there, I entered high school and my teacher, Thomas Moore, who is a guitarist, introduced me to Marcus Miller, and just like Jamerson, Marcus blew my mind. The first song I learned by ear from Marcus Miller was his song called Panther.  Also while in high school I listened heavily to a legend by the name of Ray Brown.  He changed the way I looked at music and the upright bass – from how he walked over chord changes, to the way he played a ballad, to how he soloed.  I was just in awe and I couldn’t understand why at that age.  Also I meant to add that Clifford Brown and Cannonball Adderly had a major impact on my development.

BMM: You are known as both an electric bassist and an acoustic upright bassist.  Can you share with our readers how you keep your chops up on both instruments?  How do you divide your practice time for both?

JN: Well, the past couple of years I’ve been playing electric for the majority of the time, but I will always squeeze in room for my upright.  Both basses are unique in their own right, but the upright is where it all stems from.  With the upright I can just pick it up and play anything from funk to classical bow to a walking bass line and so on.

To me, with the upright you have to come from your heart and soul to play because it’s a big instrument, plus you can’t see any of the notes, you just take a guess that it’s the right note.  But I can say the same about electric also, it has to be played from the heart and soul also.  If you have ever heard my playing on both you know that I’m a very soulful player but I also have the “chops” on both instruments. So I try not to neglect either basses.

BMM: As a busy professional bassist, you are constantly on the go.  Who are some of the great musicians you’ve toured, recorded or perfumed with?

JN: I’ve played with Eric Roberson, Houston Person, Keyon Harrold, Gregory Porter, the late Fontella Bass, the late David Peaston, and so many more. People can get a lot more info from my website www.jnicholsonbass.com.

Bassist Jahmal Nichol-2BMM: From those of us who are watching you and your career, it seems like you had a big year last year.  Can you tell us some of the tours, performances and sessions you did this past year?

JN: Mainly thus past year I’ve been focusing on the making of my album 2 Worlds 1 Mind. But for the first half of the year I was touring with Gregory Porter and another artist I provided bass for by the name of Brian Owens. Also within that time I did a bunch of one offs in and out of town.

BMM: Word on the interwebs is that you are finalizing a new CD.  Can you tell us about it?  For example, what is the name of your new CD and what motivated you to record it?  (Note: This interview was conducted before the release of Jahmal Nichol’s CD “2 Worlds 1 Mind”).

JN: Yes This will be my first solo bass project called 2 WORLDS 1 MIND.  It’s basically my interpretation of the 2 worlds being the upright bass and the electric bass, and me being the 1 mind.  It also can relate to different styles of music and me being the 1 mind and so on.

I’ve been motivated for a few years now.  What really got me wanting to go ahead and finish was when I got back from touring with Gregory Porter.  It had been a while since I had been overseas.  After playing for the people over there and feeling their response to good music that just feels good, and to my playing when i took a solo, I felt that it was time for the world to hear me and my music, and my arrangements of music that has been around for decades.  I just want to make music for the everyday listeners and not just for us musicians.  I want to make music my mom can really enjoy and not just enjoy it because I’m her son but because the music feels good.

BMM: Since we haven’t had an opportunity to hear it yet, can you tell us what styles or genres you cover on your new record?

JN: I’m covering a lot of ground on this album.  I’m doing Funk, Jazz, R&B, gospel, and even some, I guess you can call it soul bluegrass/country.  I just want to make music for the every day listeners and not just for us musicians.  Plus, I have two beautiful young children, and if my music can make them stop playing with their toys and tv and start dancing and clapping their hands, then I feel that I’m on the right track with making music feel good to the soul again

BMM: Who are your sidemen on your new record?  Are they all from the St. Louis area?

JN: The sidemen on the record are all from St. Louis. They are all very close friends on mine.  On drums, Montez Coleman and Andrew Exum.  Montez has played with many legends including Roy Hargrove, Bruce Barth, Wynton Marsalis, and many more.  On keys, organ, piano, and Rhodes I have Andre Thomas, Nick Schuelter, Phil Graves, and my brother Cory James.  Cory also played bass on one of the songs.  On guitar I have Eric Slaughter and Steve Johnston.  On percussion is Weedi Braimah.  On alto sax I have Jason Swagler and Kendrick Smith.  A phenom of a vocalist in Anita Jackson doing an arrangement of the jazz standard Come Rain or Come Shine.  Vocalist Tiffany Elle is showing her vocal and lyrical skills.  The great Theo Peoples is on it displaying why he has been the only man to hold lead vocals with both The Temptations and The Four Tops.  Trumpeter Russell Gunn is on 2 tracks.  Also providing the smooth background vocals is Tracy Mitchell.  Laying down the Banjo is the Traveling Black Hillbilly himself, Al Caldwell.  So it’s a host of great musicians from St. Louis featured with me on this album.  Also the CD was recorded and mixed in St. Louis by St. Louis engineers Jason McEntire and Marcus Leonard.

BMM: Wow!  That is an impressive lineup!  Great to see so many great St Louis musicians coming together to support your project.  So, what basses are you using on your new CD?

JN: I kept it to only 2 basses on this project. I’m using my Skjold Lions Pride and my Carvin SB5000.

BMM: Of the bass related equipment you use, which do you endorse?

JN: Currently I am endorsing TC Electronic, Dark Horse Strings, iGig Bags, and Phil Jones Bass.

BMM: Thank you Jahmal for taking the time to talk to our readers about your new CD – “2 Worlds 1 Mind” – and about the development of your music career.  Clearly, you are a bassist whose career we will continue to watch…and whose music we will look forward to hearing.  All the best in all you do!

Jahmal Nichols can be found online at www.jnicholsonbass.com and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/Jahmal.Nichols.

This interview was conducted by Vuyani Wakaba (www.vuyani.com), a South African bassist who lives and works in Chicago.  Vuyani Wakaba can be found on Facebook (www.facebook.com/vuyaniwakaba) or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/vuyani).

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Cherlyn

    October 16, 2015 at 1:32 am

    I’m so in awe of this little boy you used to visit my home with his dad over 35 years ago when his father had just started playing guitar is now a world renowned bass player; congratulations Jahmal on your continued success.

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