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by Bonnie Schendell

“Yeah, I play bass…I’m kinda good at it (hahaha), but I want people to know that I believe in God and I try to do everything with integrity.  I don’t feel people realize how important that is.  There are millions of musicians…but there are many that don’t walk in integrity.  I want to be known as that type of man.” – Nathaniel Kearney, Jr.

So many of the musicians that we interview tell how they garnered their experience at church.  It seems to be the breeding ground for musicians on every instrument and vocalists, too.  Nathaniel Kearney, Jr. is no different.  This top-notch bass player worked his way up from church groups to backing some of today’s hottest acts.  This month, SmoothViews introduces you to bassist Nathaniel Kearney, Jr.

Nate is from Halifax, a small town in the northeastern part of North Carolina, just over the Virginia border.  At the age of seven, he started playing drums, tried guitar, and eventually ended up on the bass around age 15.  “I was self-taught on both drums and bass.  I had people to give me pointers every now and then, when I was learning…however, no one actually taught me how to play.  It’s a gift from God!”

Before Nate switched over to the bass, he was playing drums for a local quartet group and before rehearsals, would hang out at the bass player’s house.  “I looked forward to going there because he had a bass in his living room all of the time.  I would pick it up and try to play songs on it.  I guess he saw that I was really interested in playing because he gave me a bass a few months later.  Because I had no amp and the pickups on the bass weren’t working properly, I had to place the bass under my chin to hear it.  I looked at different videos of concerts and listened to a lot of cassette tapes, playing along with it.  I would try to make my hands do everything I saw the bass players (on the videos) do.”

Soon after that, Nate became good enough to play for local churches and quartet groups.  While in high school, he continued to play for choirs and groups.  “I moved to Atlanta, Georgia to go to college in 1999.  A few months later, I started playing for the X-O Band…a Go-Go band.  That was AMAZING!!!! I developed as a pocket player while playing with them.” 

After the passing of his father, in 2000, Nate moved back to NC.  A year later, he attended East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.  “I attempted to get into the music program.  Because I couldn’t read music at the time, they wouldn’t let me in.  After taking remedial music reading courses, I still couldn’t get in.  So, I got mad and left school. Hahaha!”

Nate then moved to Raleigh, NC soon after leaving ECU and started playing for a church there and met Maurice Rogers (then Musical Director for Kurt Carr).  “Maurice would say, “Hey man, I need you on the road with me.”  Because I heard that from so many people, I wasn’t trying to hear that from him.  Sure enough, he called one day and asked me to fill on a gig with Kurt Carr & The Kurt Carr singers.  Evidently, there were some issues with their bassist’s flights.  Since the venue was only 1½ hours away, I was able to drive there.  So I drove to the venue and, without any rehearsal, had two great gigs with Kurt.  After the second show, Maurice told me that Kurt liked what I brought to the table and wanted me to play for the One Church Tour that summer.  I still didn’t believe him, so I drove back home.  One week later, Maurice called me at work.  Immediately after picking up the phone, I knew my life was going to change.  He asked if I wanted to play on the tour.”

A week later, he was heading to Atlanta to start rehearsing for The One Church Tour.  So, within a week, Nate went from working at a bank to playing for some of the hottest Gospel artists at that time…Kurt Carr, Smokie Norful, Rizen, James Fortune & FIYA, Vicki Yohe, and Vashawn Mitchell.  The tour lasted a couple of months.  After the tour, Kurt Carr asked Nate to be his full time bassist.  “With Kurt, I traveled all over the world…Africa (3 times), Japan, Amsterdam, Germany, England, Montreal, as well as performing at The White House for President Bush.  I was with Kurt for 4 years.”

Wanting to get into more genres and not being typecast as a Gospel music player only, Nate moved to Southern California in February of 2009.  This gave him the chance to play all types of music:  Pop, Country, R&B, Smooth Jazz, etc.  He began playing in different local spots, meeting different people, and doing a lot of networking.  “In 2010, I got an audition with Brian Culbertson.  As you see, I got the gig. Hahaha!  After playing with him, I started playing for other Smooth Jazz/Jazz artists like Brian Simpson, Eric Darius, Jonathan Butler, Chuck Loeb, and Tom Braxton.  I’ve also been to Jakarta, Indonesia for the Java Jazz Fest and I was invited to play on The Smooth Jazz Cruise this year and in 2013.”  Since being in California, Nate has also performed on Lopez Tonight and The Ellen Show with Pop superstar Taio Cruz.

Nate credits his parents and his sister for influencing him and his decisions while growing up, and names a who’s who of musicians as musical influences, too.  “My musical influences were Nathan East, Marcus Miller, Joel Smith, James Roberson, Tyrone Jackson, Tim Mason, Jason Tyson, Rick Carter, Anthony Harmon, Maurice Fitzgerald, Sting, The Gospel Keynotes, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Pilgrim Jubilees, James Brown, Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, Fourplay, Phil Collins, Tony Toni Tone, Billy Joel… shoot, it’s too many to name.”

Currently Nate is playing for Smooth Jazz superstar Brian Culbertson, and has also played with guitar virtuosos Jonathan Butler & Chuck Loeb among other smooth jazz artists including Brian Simpson, Eric Darius, and Tom Braxton, as well as Larry Braggs (lead singer of Tower Of Power) and Rahsaan Patterson.  The list of outstanding Gospel artists he has accompanied includes Mary Mary, Smokie Norful, Karen Clark Sheard, Dorinda Clark Cole, Tramaine Hawkins & Bishop Paul Morton. With Kurt Carr & The Kurt Carr Singers, Nate served as Musical Director for 2 years. He has also played with multi-platinum selling artists Taio Cruz, Avant & JODECI.  As with many other musicians, Nate has Stevie Wonder and Sting on his list of artists he would still love to work with.

With all of the touring that Nate has done over his career, he has a few gigs that are particularly memorable.  “Playing at The White House was special.  (1) It’s The White House!!!! Hahaha  and (2) I was able to take my mom with me…she had a blast!! She was taking pictures and talking with the artists like she was performing! It felt great to be able to include her in the moment.  Another memorable performance was in Lagos, Nigeria.  The event was called The Experience.  I was performing with Kurt Carr in front of 150,000 people.  It started to rain like Noah was coming back.  However, no one left.  All of the fans stayed there in the rain.  That was astonishing.  I’d never seen anything like that in my life!!”  Those experiences were very different from the first time Nate remembers ever being in front of a crowd.  “I was about 8 or 9…playing drums.  I was scared to death!!!! I’d always played in my room, but never in front of anyone.  After I finished, I knew I wanted to be a professional musician.”

As for future plans, Nate still wants to continue touring, but would like to become a first call session musician/producer/writer.  “I would love to see where the “artist” path takes me.  Honestly, my plans and God’s plans are different.  So, I will continue to learn and become the best musician/writer/producer that I can be, but ultimately, I’ll follow his direction.”

The big news in Nate’s career is the release of his debut project, Back To Bassics, where he really gets to showcase who he is as a musician.  “I’m a lover of songs…25 minute solos don’t really do it for me.  When I started listening to music, I was always drawn to songs.  Even when I started learning bass, I didn’t listen to solo bassists.  I listened to the cats that played on records. I wanted to pay homage to some of the artists that I listened to growing up as well as show people who I was as a musician.  There are many different genres showcased on my project…Pop, R&B, Funk, Gospel, & Smooth Jazz.  That’s who I am.  I’m all of those things.  I grew up listening to Luther Vandross, The Gap Band, Tom Petty, The Human League, and a host of others.  I covered songs by some of those artists, as well as included original tunes.  This CD is not a “musician’s” CD, it’s for the music lover.  If you like Pop, there’s something for you.  If you like R&B, there’s something for you.  If you like Smooth Jazz, there’s something for you.  I wanted to attract more than one type of listener.” 

When talking to up and coming musicians, Nate gives them sound sage advice.  “Whatever you play, you need to know every aspect of it.  Learn as much as you can, but know when to play all of your “tricks.”  You can play everything you know in one song.  Also, be a person of integrity.  That will take you farther than your gift ever could.  Last but not least, develop a relationship with God and start tithing!!   You’ll find yourself succeeding beyond anything you would have imagined.”

When not travelling the world with various artists, or writing music, Nate likes to blow off steam by shooting pool, going to the movies, and riding roller coasters.  You might just see him at your local amusement park!

So, keep your eye out for this North Carolina native at this year’s jazz festivals or cruises.   With the number of artists he works with and the reputation he has built with his playing and integrity, you will be certain to catch him on tour for years to come.