At Stars Align we love playing musical matchmaker. And the key to any good match is making sure the people you bring together have enough in common for easy conversation and a true connection.
The roots of jazz are common threads that bind many contemporary musicians, whether they realize it or not, and our latest collaborators found common ground through their shared jazz background.
Charlie Coffeen, the band leader of the 8-piece hip-hop/soul/jazz powerhouse Sidewalk Chalk, and Nate Lepine, a seasoned saxophonist, have been around the Chicago scene for a while. They were joined by a third collaborator, Nika Nemirovsky, who performs under the name Good At Bad and is relatively new to the scene.
Even though the three had never met before, the connection was pretty clear once they took the stage. While they didn’t formally rehearse their set, part of the plan was for Charlie and Nate to add new layers to Nika’s original work. As Good at Bad, Nika usually plays as a solo performer. Rooted in jazz and the blues, her stripped-down, vocal-driven songs manage to be dynamic and introspective at the same time. It was exciting to hear Charlie and Nate add whole new dimensions to those tracks.
The three also took time to improvise, tapping heavily into that jazz language the three had in common. Speaking after the show, they had a lot to say about the Art of Improvisation. Nika said she’s relatively new to it, but has learned the perfect improvisation involves musicians at the peak of listening and the peak of performing at the same time.
“It’s like you’re totally immersed in ego and totally separate from ego at once,” she said.
Now a tenor saxophonist and composer, Nate said he grew up playing with a lot of older musicians and that experience taught him early on how to adapt to a given situation. He’s performed and recorded with artists including Cursive, Iron and Wine, and the Afghan Wigs over his 20+ year career.
“Saxophone players get thrown in that situation a lot, like special teams, ‘just go in and blow on this,’” Nate said.
Now the bandleader and keyboardist for Sidewalk Chalk, Charlie grew up in music circles which he said have always been very “communicative and open,” particularly those of the gospel community.
“It looks like people giving you gang signs to talk about what’s coming up next, “ Charlie said. He said the system they usually use involves band leaders giving hand signals to keep everyone on the same page as songs go into uncharted territory.
“That’s a jazz thing, to be listening and willing to let things go where they go and improvise and be comfortable in that space,” Charlie said.
Nate said that while listeners might not “get” a lot of jazz, they know when it goes wrong. And they can also tell when a song is telling or a story or leading them nowhere.
“You could be like, ‘they all lived happily ever after,’ or ‘they all died in the fire,’” Nate joked.