Wonder Women: Nalani
This month we’re catching up with Nalani, a bassist, vocalist, and entertainer in the Nashville area known for her versatility and showmanship. She has performed with and is mentored by some of the most legendary names in the bass world.
Tell us about yourself.
My life has always been centered around creative expression and connection. From a young age, I was immersed in all things creative. It has been my nature to explore every means of expression, with music at the center of my creative vortex. I grew up surrounded by music. At home, in my early years, my Dad sang and played guitar continuously, while my Mom was responsible for exposing me to the power of Live music through amazing festivals, concerts, and events that children would normally be excluded from. I fell in love with music’s universality and ability to bring people together and create Connection. As soon as the Bass became a part of my world, opportunities and experiences started opening up for me. I found mentors and teachers who gave me real-life experiences sitting in with their bands. And in school, there were multiple times when my jazz or orchestra teacher would take me under their wing if I was struggling or feeling discouraged. People were excited to see a young girl playing the bass, and they wanted to share their knowledge with me, turning me on to music, artists, and various opportunities to pursue.
That’s how I first learned about five-time Grammy winner Victor Wooten and his Bass Nature Camp. The next time he came to town, my wide-eyed 13-year-old self was right there, in the front row, flush against the stage. I was in awe of the showmanship I witnessed and encouraged by the personal connections that Victor, Regi Wooten, Joseph Wooten, and Divinity Roxx (then MC Divinity) welcomed. After two years of anticipation and seeing Victor in concert as much as possible, I was old enough to attend the Camp. I traveled to Nashville for the first time and stayed with the legendary Bob Moore (Elvis), who gave me an impromptu lesson on his upright. Bass Nature Camp was a magical experience that served as a pivot point where many life-long relationships began. I was one of the youngest players there and one of only four women. Even though there was a range of levels and experiences, it was clear this was a place for everyone, and the camp taught things everyone needed to learn… no matter how advanced.
Bass Nature Camp was where I first met Marcus Miller, Rhonda Smith, Michael Manring, Steve Bailey, Anthony Wellington, and the legendary Chuck Rainey. It was also where I really got to know The Wootens more personally and began building relationships that would eventually become like Family. I left that camp with a validation of the true power of music and its connection to the Universe. I was empowered and inspired by the connections that I made, but I didn’t know just how deep and lasting these connections would be or how they would lead to so many opportunities down the road. Like in 2007, when I attended the North Sea Jazz cruise and really got to spend time with Marcus Miller, connected with James Moody, Roy Hargrove, and David Sanborn. I even had the great honor of sitting in on Marcus’s Bass during a jam session on the ship. Marcus Miller and The North Sea Jazz Cruise was another point in my history that led to more opportunities, like in 2009 and when I would meet Herbie Hancock on the Playboy jazz cruise, or in college when I worked at the Montreal Jazz Festival with Mark Ruffin of Sirius XM.
At Bass Nature Reunion Camp, Esperanza Spalding helped inspire me to choose William Paterson University (WPU); the prospect of studying with her added extra motivation to make the move to New Jersey. I opted to turn down a full-ride scholarship to study Jazz Bass at the University of Colorado Boulder and instead took off to WPU, where I was encouraged to take on a double class load to focus on both instruments equally.
Immediately after graduating, I lived and worked in New York. I performed weekly in Asbury Park in Jersey with a Latin Jazz Band and honed my skills as a solo act while living in San Angelo, Texas. In San Angelo, I had the opportunity to open for Samantha Fish in front of a crowd of 5,000 people. Later that year, in December 2013, the Wooten Brothers invited me to be a guest on their tour bus to experience a glimpse of the life I am pursuing. It felt like an initiation to really know the experience of living on the road, traveling from venue to venue. The Wooten Brothers welcomed me and mentored me wholeheartedly. It was this trip that inspired me to study from “the Teacha,” Regi Wooten, and ultimately inspired me to move to Nashville to study under his mastery, devoting myself to music as my career.
After a short acoustic tour in the fall of 2014, I landed in Nashville and quickly established myself in the music community and at various jams. I took advantage of Regi Wooten’s mentorship at every chance I could get, and in the first couple of years of living in Nashville, I got many opportunities to play in various acts of every genre. I served as musical director for various artists and started getting more high-profile gigs with artists such as Kevin Max of DC Talk. My life in Music City started to reveal the relationships I had developed over the years. The connections I made at Bass Nature Camp, Marcus Miller’s Jazz cruises, and the NAMM Show became valuable elements of my musical life. I adopted Chuck Rainey as my “Bass Godfather” and assisted at his Rhythm Intensive summer camp. That’s where I connected with many musicians, including Bobby Vega of Tower of Power, and legendary session player, Jerry Jemmott. In 2017 I was taken under the masterful wings of established players Tom Barney (Saturday night life, Steely Dan, Lion king on Broadway) and Bakithi Kumalo (bass for Paul Simon). I’ve developed friendships with great, established artists in the bass world and have been welcomed into a prestigious group of Nashville bass players that meets every year at Victor Wooten’s house. This group is full of serious pros and some iconic legends, including Billy Sheehan and Edgar Meyer.
In 2019, I released my first album, “Nalani – Live at Nissi’s with the Hazel Miller Band,” and toured through Colorado as The Nalani Effect featuring Regi Wooten. I’ve performed with Joseph Wooten in various projects, collaborated with Bakithi Kumalo, played bass for Regi Wooten and Friends, and shared the stage with some of my heroes. In 2021 I merged my art with my music in a milestone performance at Art and Soul Nashville with my Trio, made up of 5-time Grammy winner Roy “Future Man” Wooten, Regi “the Teacha” Wooten, and myself. Last year (2021) was highlighted by a landmark performance where I was featured with Regi Wooten and Friends in front of an audience of 400,000 people for the 4th of July Downtown Nashville celebration.
So many amazing people and opportunities continue to serve my development and further my relationship with myself, with music, and with my audience. Even though so much has already happened, I still feel like I’m just at the beginning of my journey. And I am so excited to keep sharing my enthusiasm for connection, freedom, authenticity, and humble, passionate pursuit of the study of what I believe to be the most powerful Artform in the universe.
What drew you to the music industry?
Thanks to music, my whole life is about connection; connecting with one’s self, connecting with others, connecting with the present moment. Growing up, most of my experience of music was in a live setting. I got to watch that special relationship between the performers and the audience and the unique moments they share together. The universal nature of music makes it one of the most powerful ways to connect with many people at once.
An early experience that shaped you as an artist now?
Most of my moving experiences come from when performers made me, as an audience member, feel like an essential part of their performance. Artists like Laura Love and Hazel Miller were great examples in my childhood of connecting with their fans, and over the years, I’ve had multiple experiences where a performer made me feel like the most important person in the audience.
The playful expression and freedom that I saw in Laura Love (my favorite artist growing up) had me in awe. She slapped the bass, sang, and danced front-and-center on stages that towered over my little self. I wanted to be able to play and move a crowd the way she did. The element that really impacted me was her personal connection to myself and other audience members. She had a way of making you feel like an essential part of her show. This led me to pick up the electric bass at age 11.
Another great example was the first time I saw Victor Wooten live. I was right up front against the stage, right at Regi’s feet. I was wide-eyed and awestruck by Victor and super inspired by Divinity Roxx (then MC Divinity) who was slapping the bass and rocking the mic like I wanted to be. But one of the most memorable moments was with Regi. He did one of his crazy solos and threw down his pick on the stage right in front of me like he was trying to make sure I got it. But this big dude standing behind me reached over and snatched it from under me. Regi saw this and made sure to toss down another straight to me so that he could ensure I got the pick. That moment was one of connection and of feeling seen. Moments like that, where the audience and performers connect, and the performers uplift the audience… that’s everything to me. That’s what music is for, and that’s how I want to serve my audience.
How are you handling working through the pandemic? How has technology helped (or hindered) you? Any tips to share?
Believe it or not, 2020 was my most successful year up until that point. I think the pandemic clarified for me how devoted I am to music and my creative life. The pandemic increased the number of students I have in my private lessons. I also had a steady church gig that streamed, allowing me some steady income, and I started teaching an online class on the creative process. Also, because I’m fortunate to live in Nashville, where things weren’t so shut down, I could play some great shows on some huge stages during the summer. I’ve watched some friends really take advantage of social media and build a huge following in a short amount of time, so I feel inspired to work on that for myself.
I learned to use Zoom for teaching privately and for group art classes I teach, as well as for connecting with our (NAMM) network of female bass players. What Zoom reinforced for me was the power of connection, that there’s this invisible thread or realm that connects us all, and that even when we are apart, humans have the ability to connect to each other on another level. That’s why I love music so much; it’s invisible and intangible, but everyone can feel it.
Any current projects that you can tell us about?
Currently, I teach private music lessons and facilitate group classes on personal and artistic development through the creative process, and my many musical projects continue to develop recognition and influence in Nashville and around the country. My solo act, Nalani, is an intimate, groovy meeting of my voice and upright bass. My band, The Nalani Effect, is a mash-up of genres, but it is all about moving the audience. I regularly have the legendary Regi Wooten on guitar, and the band is made up of some of the most masterful groove and improv-oriented players! This is a wild dance band composed of only the best musicians Nashville has to offer, where improvisation and entertainment merge in a blend of genres. The Nalani Trio is my jazz trio; we play whatever the room calls for, from old standards to funky fusion. The Nalani Trio features jazz masters like Roy and Regi Wooten.
And then there’s the Rory and Nalani Trio, this band is centered around classic duets. Multi-instrumentalist Rory Hoffman is a Nashville legend and virtuoso on every instrument he touches. Rory is my partner in crime in this group. Our show is cheeky and fun, and we bring a playful and bright twist to songs from the great American song book. Duo Fina is my new project with shredding guitarist Cynthia Cardenas. We play a mix of Latin and pop standards as a duo. Both of us being students of Regi Wooten, we integrate techniques and approaches that you’re not likely to see in any other duo setting.
You can catch me in these projects, as well as serving as a side-man to Regi Wooten, Lydia Brittan, Heidi Burson, and numerous artists in varying genres, both in Nashville and across the country.
Dream artist or band to collaborate with?
Agh! So many! My top three are Steel Panther (I know… surprising, right?), Prince (I wish he was still here) and then Larry Graham. I wanna Thump it down with Graham!
Important cause or issue that you support?
I support people knowing themselves! I think that the more you know, honor, take care of, and work on developing your deepest self, the more authentic and present you can be. By truly doing that, and unraveling yourself from life’s conditioning, then you can create and be anything. Authenticity, devotion, and discipline. If we all dove into that instead of worrying about controlling or reacting to everything and everyone, then I believe we would see more harmony. I do this through the science and art of music. I know myself more and more, every time I pick up my instrument and share myself and move an audience.
What would you want to change about the music industry?
I would like the mainstream focus to go back to featuring and promoting real artists, real talent, and people who are masters of their craft as entertainers or on their instruments. “Back in the day,” when labels were running things, there was a focus on finding serious talent because it was a serious investment. But today, everything is so diluted, and popularity (followers) is a requirement before you even start. It seems what’s getting attention right now is so fleeting. I want to find ways to bring forward the kind of true talent that creates legendary music that lasts lifetimes.
New artist (or new to you) that we should all know about?
I’ve been getting turned onto the Rock ’n Roll world in a new way. I’ve always been a funk girl, but I am so inspired by the entertainment style of the powerful performers of the ’80s, like David Lee Roth, and the moving sound and tone of John Sykes on the White Snake album. A rock artist and fellow female bassist who embodies that same energy and really inspires me are Jasmine Cain.
We usually hear about the downsides of being a female in the music industry. Let’s flip the script; do you see any benefits?
In my case, I think being a female has made people more receptive to me. As a young girl, it definitely encouraged people to uplift me as a bass player. Being a girl that played bass excited people and inspired them to give me opportunities, to teach me, and support my journey. I think if I had been a boy, the excitement may not have been as strong. I think a lot of women are getting opportunities simply because they are a woman on their instrument. The fact that we are less common in the field makes us stand out, and also makes people pay more attention to what we’re doing on and off the stage. Especially so when you actually have the skill to back up the novelty.
Also, there’s a humbleness that I see in many female players… an honoring of the groove and the music… of not needing to stand out, but to simply be of service. I think that’s an honorable skill that many women bring to the table.
In general, there is something amazing about a powerful woman who can hold a crowd; all genders are drawn to her in different ways. At least to me, when I see a woman really in her element, really in a mastery of a skill, and in a position of respect, I am drawn to her, inspired and full of admiration.
I don’t like to generalize male vs. female traits, but there’s a feminine energy that I think we can all tap into, male or female. Music is very feminine; many instruments are shaped like the female form, the way music moves and motivates without force but by invitation and inspiration, and the way music can manifest something out of nothing are all feminine energies. Feminine energy isn’t only attributed to females; anyone can master its gifts. I think if women could embody this true feminine nature rather than what our culture has deemed feminine, then we’d be wielding some seriously powerful energy. We’re lucky our body and mind are already tuned to it and that there’s so much ancient history of women who already have. My goal is to figure out how to master music with a balance of both feminine and masculine energies.
You know bassists are all about the gear. And I’m definitely a gear nerd. So I have to ask…any recent game-changing acquisitions to your toolkit?
Stage Clix wireless systems are one of my favorite auxiliary pieces to my setup because it gives me the ultimate freedom to entertain and connect with the audience in a really intimate and personal way. Also, the Jet Phaser by Warm Audio is my newest pedal! It’s one piece getting me closer to Larry Graham’s fuzz/phaser sound, which pulls together the perfect blend of my traditional devotion to funk with my new inspiration of the rock’n’roll energy.
I feel like the gear is so personal, and I always pick my tools based on how they resonate with me. I know I’m using the right bass, amp, etc., when I get that juicy feeling of freedom and inspiration! That is why I endorse Modulus basses and Bartolini pickups, Trickfish amplification, Phil Jones Bass, Stage Clix, and Cordial Cables.
What’s your favorite part about this line of work?
Getting to be wild, playful, and inspiring others to shake loose of their inhibitions and insecurities. And helping others find the same freedoms in themselves.
Where can we find you on the interwebs?
- Art and Soul Nashville Classes
- Facebook Page
- Listen to “Live at Nissi’s”
Brittany Frompovich is a highly regarded educator, clinician, blogger, and bassist who currently resides in the Washington DC/NOVA region. For more content from Brittany, check out her blog, her YouTube channel, and her Bandcamp site. She also offers handmade unisex music-themed jewelry through her Etsy store. Get a Wonder Woman Tee!