IN TUNE: One of the joys of today’s music scene are powerful talents like Nikki Armstrong, who perform regularly at nightspots in our neighborhoods — and who last night turned what could have been a quiet, soggy evening at the Westside Village Tavern into a show to remember.
There was a time when the local joints were for those who didn’t quite have the chops to make it, for those folks with real jobs during the day who still wanted to be able to play out.
The Internet revolution and the tanked economy have changed all that: Last night, a group of us got to enjoy Nikki’s amazing breadth of styles and vocal range, as she transformed choice selections of American blues, funk, rock, soul, and pop into sultry, soulful gems.
It’s a tribute to her generous heart that Nikki not only brings along tremendously skilled musicians but that she also draws others who will show up and sit in. Last night, they all sounded as if they’d been doing this together for years.
Nikki’’s regular backing band wasn’t there. But at group of masterful musicians filled in, including Brandenbug on guitar, Bill Brady on bass and Charlie Stuart on drums, with Gabe Marra sitting in for some tunes on skins. Filling out the sound beautifully was Juan Petruz on percussion (and no, I didn’t shout, “More cowbell!” Was tempted, though). At one point, Steven Grace joined in on harp and Rich Barnett on bongos.
But that’s how Nikki’s shows are. The enchanting chanteuse with the warm, rich contralto has been singing and dancing since she was 11. She studied music and voice with legendary arranger Hal Schaefer and has done session work from New York to Los Angeles to Australia.
Nikki also teaches vocals in her spare time, arranging performance workshops in the area, and is involved with the New York Blues and Jazz Society.
Thanks to her jazz leanings, Nikki also encourages spontaneity onstage, with both the chops AND the security in her talent to dive into wherever the evening takes her. She thrives on the unpredictable.
Nikki is quite mesmerizing, too – lively, funny and entirely immersed in the music. The legendary Les Paul once said she reminded him of the great jazz singer Anita O’Day, a legend herself, who had an amazing sense of timing and nuance.
As for Nikki’s selections themselves, how about an American songbook that spans decades, from Fats Waller through Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer to Bill Withers and all the way to Queen Latifah?
The Pick Ups
Last night’s setlist didn’t disappoint, going from “Georgia on My Mind” to “Honky Tonk Women” to “Me and Bobbie McGee” to “This Masquerade” to “Moondance” to “Fever”? Then came “Chain of Fools” and – oh, such a delight – the torch song Billie Holiday made famous, “Good Morning Heartache.”
Good evening, Nikki. Thanks for the gift. Hope to see you again soon.
The evening opened with the imaginative stylings of The Pick Ups, featuring singer-guitarist Steve Najemian (who owns The Guitar Boutique in Ridgefield and hosts Open Mic Night at the tavern on Tuesdays), singer-guitarist Ron Ebert, guitarist Raul Bermudez and drummer Rich Barnett.
Sure, they did some Beatles and Lou Reed. But how many bands do you know who cover Badfinger’s “Day After Day”? Very impressive.
(A side note: Westside Village Tavern in Ridgefield Park has become a terrific local venue with not only fine talent but also a vibe that’s difficult to create. The service is outstanding, the food is tasty and affordable – and you never know who is going to show up at Open Mic Night on Tuesdays. Check it out.)
Nikki Armstrong and her band regularly play Lucille’s (at BB Kings on 42nd Street in Manhattan). They’re expected back sometime soon at the Westside and perform a Mexicali Live. You can also hear Nikki doing her own “Blues in the Grooves” show every Wednesday from 1 to 3:45 p.m. on WDFU 89.1 FM. For more: NikkiArmstrong.com
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