Interview & Photos by Brad Walseth
Standing outside the Velvet Lounge at 1:30 in the a.m. with young tenor sax star Kevin Nabors. The streets are mostly deserted, with much of the audience that thrilled to Kevin's work earlier in the evening with Corey Wilkes, Junius Paul and Isaiah Spencer (as "Abstrakt Pulse") now gone home. Kevin is smart and personable and a cool and confident fellow with a bright future ahead of him in the music world. He took a few minutes to talk with me outside Fred Anderson's club in the South Loop.
JazzChicago: Tell us a bit about yourself Kevin.
Kevin Nabors: I come from Chicago Illinois. Hometown boy, Chi-towner, Southsider. 26 years of age now, have a little boy in my life, He’s my son — he’s “The Sequel.” He’s my buddy. He’s got many nicknames, but his name is little Kevin James West.
JazzChicago: So besides being a dad, what's happening in your life?
Kevin Nabors: Basically I travel all around the world with these guys I play on the stage with. It’s been great – 4 or 5 times around and looking to do it again in January. Just playing some great music for people to enjoy.
JazzChicago: Where and who with?
Kevin Nabors: January and February TBA, but overseas with Ernest Dawkins and the Chicago Twelve.
JazzChicago: So how did you start playing music?
Kevin Nabors: Initially, I started playing in grammar school. I was playing basketball of course – every boy plays basketball. But I was hearing music for some reason and my band director of the name of Newsome Otis Sr. - a great trumpeter as well – had a recorder. Everyone in the school had to at least take a music class, and that was the daily music class we had going on.
So we did that – played the recorder – had a concert, and one day I got there a little early because my grandmother Charlene Williams worked there as a clerk – she just retired, but in 4th grade I was coming in and saying "I want to play music, I really want to play music." There was something about music that I really wanted to enjoy and to get into.
So one day I came by knocked on the door – I got there a little early before anyone else and I said I wanted to play. He said what do you want to play? I said I want to play sax. He said no, you can’t play the sax right now - we ‘re going to start you on the clarinet and when you work over the bridge you can also adjust to the saxophone as well.
So I did that – joined the band. My sister, Sharon Nabors, said, "my brother's doing it, I want to do it too." So I was like – "I got a teammate with me – good!" We sat side by side sitting first chair. After a couple years, got the clarinet down and then went to audition for the All City Concertband – I’m still in grade school – it was a big move. I did it – it went good – got called back. Played there for nine consecutive years – so that’s when I met Isaiah Spencer.
I’ve known Isaiah since I was 12 years of age basically. He was playing in the concert band and moved to the jazz band, and I said, "where’d you go?" And he said, "I’m playing in the jazz band." I was hearing different music at the time. We had different breaks where we could hear other music. They’d say you’ve got 15 minutes and I would go back into the building and hear this other music and it was like "what’s this – this jazz music – I like this." I’d heard jazz because I had family members play it, but now I’m hearing it right here in my face.
So, graduated from grammar school – went to high school – and in 7th grade I had swiched over to tenor – so going to high school with 3 years under my belt, joined the all city high school band.
Felt the transition in my playing, and also learned something new, because it’s always great to learn something new. If you don’t learn something new, what’s the point? It’s a waste of time. So I joined the marching band at CVS or Chicago Vocational. Majored in performing arts, minored in computer science. Graduated in the top 5% with a very high GPA.
Then I went to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff down south. Did that school for two years majoring in music education. And also minored in performance as well. Stayed there, got good grades, came back here and went to Chicago State for a year. Me and Corey went to school, but we had known each other for a long time – so it was like making a transition from this place to that place.
JazzChicago: Where did you meet Corey?
Kevin Nabors: I met Corey through Isaiah and Maurice Brown – who's currently in New York right now holding it down. Met him at a jam session at City Life, probably before that, I remember seeing him, but now we were as men playing music.
(Here we are interrupted by some audience members - tourists from Europe congratulating Kevin)
Kevin Nabors: Part two – Chicago State, met up with Corey, grown to know Junius Paul the bass player in the band, also a few other friends came along on the scene in Chicago - rising to different plateau in their playing. Got a chance to tour – Paris, Ghana, Rome, and more places to come as well.
It's been a beautiful experience. Been maturing, and also being a father – I take care of my son as well. So transitions is a must, and a resolution always comes like a "ii - V - I" (common jazz progression). It’s like a baseball game - to be the pitcher you got to strike them out, you want to be the batter you got to knock it out of the park – which one are you going to do? You have to succeed – you can’t fail.