In the world of showbiz, it’s sometimes easy to overlook that the second syllable is short for “business.”
That’s not the case with Kim Nalley, who opens a five-week run at the Rrazz Room on Tuesday with “She Put a Spell on Me” featuring the music of Nina Simone.
The accomplished jazz singer knows all too well what’s involved in keeping the doors open from her years running the club Jazz at Pearl’s, which was not necessarily the career boost people might think.
“I actually worked less as a performer when I had the club,” Nalley says. “I feel like I have a unique rapport with club owners because I know what a thankless job it is. When I was an owner and a performer, I at least got some stage applause. Owners usually don’t get that.”
After two decades on the scene, she also has a very good sense of her fan base.
“I know what my numbers are and that people would come to see me,” Nalley says.
She could play larger houses for shorter runs, but “I really love the Rrazz Room. There’s a musical tightness that only comes from playing often with the same band … and not having a lot of travel days in between,” she says with a laugh.
Back at the show part, Nalley warms to talking about Simone, who began recording in 1958 and became a voice of the civil rights era. Beginning in the 1970s, Simone lived a largely expatriate life until succumbing to breast cancer in 2003.
“We did a tribute show right after she passed,” Nalley says, “which is something you just do inside of jazz as a memorial. It was really impromptu, but it struck a chord and we had to turn away lots of people.”
Simone holds several draws for Nalley, whose show mixes biographical information with the music.
“One of the really striking features about Nina Simone is that her interpretations are truly timeless,” Nalley says. “Not classic or retro, but current. Having the background gives people some insight into why she wrote a particular song or sang something in a particular way.”
Another facet is what Nalley hears as the underlying message of Simone’s style.
“She speaks to all women, all races,” Nalley says. “She speaks to black people. She speaks to civil rights, to the maids in hotels getting below minimum wage.
“She speaks to the oppressed and the underdog. I think that’s something anyone can identify with, regardless of race, gender or anything else.”
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