I had the very cool opportunity to speak with John Wooley a couple days ago. John is a well-known author, historian, filmmaker, and the host of "Swing On This" on KWGS, Public Radio Tulsa. He interviewed me on behalf of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, and this article is the result:
As would be the case with any performer, vocalist Matt Nightingale is hoping for a big crowd Sunday, when he appears with pianist Cheryl Bocanegra, bassist Cortez Johnson, and drummer Arthur Thompson at the Jazz Depot.
But even if every seat is taken and there’s a line outside the door that stretches far beyond Detroit Avenue, it won’t even be a fraction of his largest audience ever. In November of 2006, Nightingale sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Candlestick Park, prior to a National Football League game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks.
“They had a kind of American Idol competition, and I won it, so I got to sing,” explains Nightingale. “It was one of those beautiful rare occasions when the 49ers beat the Seahawks, and it was also the day that Jerry Rice’s jersey was retired, so everybody was there. They had 70,000 people in the stadium that day.”
An Indiana native who spent a decade in California, Nightingale has lived in Tulsa for the past two and a half years, serving as the music director for Redeemer Covenant Church. Every Sunday, he and Bocanegra perform together as part of the worship service, so it’s logical that she would be the one to bring him onto the Jazz Hall of Fame stage.
“Cheryl Bocanegra is an incredible pianist, and I believe she’s done two of the annual piano concerts at the Jazz Hall,” he says. “The last time she played one of those, a year or so ago, she asked me to come in and sing. I did `Moanin’’ by Bobby Timmons, with the lyrics that had been added by Jon Hendricks. [Artistic director] Chuck Cissel liked what I did and invited me back to sing last spring, when they were doing a Gershwin revue. I did a couple of songs and – well, I guess it went really well, because they asked me to do my own show.”
He wasted no time in contacting Bocanegra about joining him, knowing that she could handle the approach to pop and jazz music he had in mind.
“Besides playing together in church, Cheryl and I are in a pop band called Sound Society,” he says. “We’ve played Summer’s Fifth Night at Utica Square twice, and we’ve done parties and events around town, so we’ve worked together quite a bit.
“When I was in California, I also did a number of music-related things,” he adds. “I did a show that had a couple of hours of standards, jazz, and Broadway songs, and I had my own little band that played around coffeehouses and places like that. So picking songs and putting a show together are not completely foreign to me. Really, I do that every week. Obviously, it’s for a completely different purpose, but in the last 12 or 13 years, I’ve been putting musical programs together for church.”
Sunday’s show, he says, will feature three different styles of music in roughly equal amounts. “Maybe a third will be traditional jazz, another third will be pop songs people have heard on the radio, like Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis.’ And another third will be sort of avant-garde.”
He puts his version of the 2011 song “Hangin’ On” by Active Child in the latter category. “It’s a kind of electronic, dreamy, alternative-pop song, and we’ve rearranged it for piano, bass, and drums,” he explains. “We’re doing different arrangements a lot, trying to turn things upside down in a new way.”
Helping him and the band do that will be body percussionist Jeff Porter, who’s set to add his talents to “I’ve Got Rhythm,” and Nightingale’s wife Luanne, who’ll join him to sing the Academy Award-winning “Falling Slowly” from the 2006 movie Once.
And for his closing number?
“Could there be a better one than `A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’?” he asks with a laugh. “It’s pretty hard for me to get away from that one -- although I'm thinking about changing the title to `A Nightingale Sang in Utica Square.’”
Matt Nightingale and Cheryl Bocanegra are set to take the stage Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets for the solo concert can be purchased at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase.
The concert is a part of the Jazz Hall’s Spring Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.