Nikki Glaspie is many things to many people, not least of which being among the premier drummers in music today. She has touched countless lives, laying down the groove for us to live our lives. Glaspie has played behind and alongside musical luminaries amid an array of genres, cities and scenes. As a founding member of The Nth Power, she continues blazing a path of light behind the kit, leaving a trail of fire behind her, and rolling waves of love in her wake.
Around the age of fifteen, Nikki’s father started introducing her to secular music. His tastes and selections ran the gamut, as she experienced everything from Van Halen, The Gap Band, The O’Jays, Rage Against the Machine, Hall and Oates, and so many points between. Glaspie’s dad thought that since Nikki had been drumming since two years old, he would expose her to a new world of music and cultures, and see where she might take it from there. Predictably, she immediately fell in love, her mind officially blown. However, her paradigm would shift most dramatically after graduating from high school; in 2001 she then relocated to Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music. In the Beantown environs flush in virtuoso and metropolitan vibrations, Glaspie expanded her horizons even further, delving deep into the realms of funk, fusion, and jazz. The stage was set for her education, entertainment, and evolution. Berklee provided an embarrassment of riches for the wide-eyed Glaspie, who did her best to sponge up all the experience, perspective, and knowledge that surrounded her. She took private drum lessons from Francisco Mela, studied with the likes of Kenwood Dennard and David “Fuze” Fiuczynski, was exposed to long time heroes Dennis Chambers and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez. Yet Nikki credits the conductor of the hip-hop ensemble, and founder of the Jazz Hip Hop Orchestra, Angelamia Bachemin, as the most influential instructor during her time at Berklee, and in her life as a whole. Nikki refers to Bachemin as a mother figure, and says that she taught her more about life, inside the music and out, than anything or anybody else.
While the long-lauded Berklee gave Nikki a firm foundation, traditionally, academically and thematically, Glaspie credits the frequent gigging at the legendary Wally’s Jazz Café in Boston as an enormous and fortuitous factor in her musical education. It was at Wally’s that Nikki connected with a variety of players in a series of pseudo-student/teacher relationships. The scene on any given weeknight resembled what many of today’s jam-band super-jams aspire to. A smattering of young, inspired players would come together in a wide variety of combos, and team up with a teacher or two from Berklee, or a well known local virtuoso. The results would be staggering, spiritualized sets of music that would propel the careers of many of today’s heaviest hitters in the jazz and jam spheres. With it’s Uptown at the Apollo vibe and a “sink or swim” culture, Nikki was called to bring her best drumming and listening, and her most daring ideas to the jam, In doing so, she proved to herself that she could hang with the baddest cats in the game.
Glaspie spent her collegiate years geeking out to the styles, patterns and approaches of a melange of accomplished drummers. She studied the likes of Dennis Chambers and Horacio Hernandez, the grooves of early Doobie Powell, the punked-up bombast of Dave Grohl, and the minimalist, snapping hip-hop beats of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. Glaspie burrowed through seminal records from all arenas of the art, mining influence and perspective from Hezekiah Walker, Fred Hammond, and James “J Dilla” Yancey. One of the most influential people in her life would be Maurice White (Earth Wind & Fire) He is her hero and aspires to be just like him when she grows up.
Shortly after finishing school, Glaspie hooked up with another Berklee alumni, Sam Kininger, then-saxophonist of Lettuce and Soulive, who led his own funk-jam band. Nikki teamed with bassist Aaron Bellamy, Guitarist Mike Feingold and keyboardist Amy Bowles Bellamy an this mighty band made the festival and club circuit rounds. From this seat Glaspie left her first striking impressions on the newly fertile jam band scene. Meanwhile, she co-produced Adam Joseph’s R & B debut How I Seem to Be.
The fuse was lit, and Nikki’s burgeoning career was launched skyward. R&B/rock rebel-soul guitarist Martin Luther scooped up Glaspie, in a trio with Arron Bellamy, they toured Europe and beyond. Luther came back from tour inspired, and they recorded a smoking engagement in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the live record Martin Luther Live at Arlene’s Grocery. Glaspie was again gigging for Kininger when she manifested a game changing opportunity, in the form of an audition for Beyonce Knowles’ brand new, all female touring ensemble.
“I wasn’t even considering going to the audition. I had just moved to New York 6 months prior. I was trying to establish myself, but I was still going to Boston to play weddings and other gigs just to pay my bills. The audition came up on a Monday – I had a gig with Sam [Kininger] in Nantucket. I had 50 bucks in my pocket and said to myself, “What am I gonna do?” Which lead me to staying in New York for the audition. I didn’t hear anything until the following Friday. They congratulated me and asked me back, so I auditioned again on Saturday – this is after hours and hours of playing and sitting and waiting and playing- it was all of this for probably 8 hours each day that week. Finally, at the end of the day they told us, “You ten have been selected to be in the band.” And that was the beginning of Beyonce First ever all female band.
From there began a whirlwind few years for Glaspie as a drummer for SUGA MAMA, the collection of femm-fatales that rolled on tour with the now-ubiquitous celebrity Beyonce. Glaspie again had to study and adapt to new styles and a simpler, restrained role in the band. Playing alongside percussionist Marcie Chapa and set player Kim Thompson (the latter with whom Nikki appeared on the cover of the February 2007 Modern Drummer Magazine), Glaspie toured the world with one of the biggest entertainment stars of this generation. Her schedule took her from Saudi Arabia to the White House; she experienced the music business from a perch that few ever get to see. Glaspie played every major network morning show or nighttime talk show, recorded on the platinum album 4, and spent the better part of five years as part of the singer’s meteoric rise to fame. From Beyonce, Nikki learned about persistence, professionalism, perfectionism, and pride in yourself and your work.
On the heels of SUGA MAMA shape-shifting her career arc and life, Nikki Glaspie then hooked up with a legend of a different kind, no less potent or influential. Ivan Neville of the storied Neville Brothers family tree welcomed Nikki into the womb and the world of New Orleans funk music, and Glaspie dove in head first with aplomb. Soon thereafter, she joined Neville’s rumbling NOLA funk syndicate Dumpstaphunk, and connected muscularly with the band’s double bass attack of Nick Daniels III and Tony Hall. Glaspie took no prisoners from this drum spot, propelling Dumpsta into the top tier of touring funk bands on the festival circuit, including high-profile slots at Bonnaroo, Voodoo Music Experience, High Sierra Music Festival, Outside Lands, and more. Glaspie was also in the studio with Dumpstaphunk when they recorded their second full-length LP Dirty Word, and her fingerprints are all over the bulbous grooves that populate that release. Dumpstaphunk were invited to open for Lionel Ritchie at a coast-to-coast series of shows to promote the record.
Through Dumpstaphunk, Nikki’s reputation as a funk machine began to follow her wherever she laid down a greasy groove. In a serendipitous twist of fate, Glaspie was asked to fill in for Adam Deitch, playing two sets with Lettuce at Bear Creek 2014. The celebrated funk festival was also site of another classic Glaspie sit-in, with five-time Grammy Award-winning jazz champions Snarky Puppy. Nikki has been fortunate to play frequently at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, both at the Fairgrounds and in the clubs well into the night. Glaspie has shared the stage with Soulive, Karl Denson, G Love & the Special Sauce, Melvin Sparks, Russell Baptiste, The North Mississippi All Stars, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, George Porter, and countless others. It was a late night, Jazz Fest, Maple Leaf gig in 2012 that would connect her with what has become her passion project and life’s work, The Nth Power.
Nikki Glaspie departed Dumpstaphunk in the summer of 2014 to focus on The Nth Power full time. The public praise, and rabid responses to an independently released 2013 EP Basic Minimum Skills Test told Glaspie what she already knew inside; that she was on to something special with this band, with this music, with this feeling, inside this LOVE. The collective, which includes Nate Edgar (John Brown’s Body) on bass, Nick Cassarino on guitar and vocals, believes in music as a higher power, tapping into vibrations that are both spiritual and sexy.
Glaspie’s furious gospel chops, her focused hip-hop swagger, her funky stutter steps, and serene R&B grooves are all on display, front and center, within The Nth Power’s mesmerizing gumbo. The band released their proper debut album, Abundance in 2015, and have been relentlessly touring the US in support; their songs of faith and devotion have blessed Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival, Electric Forest, Catskill Chill and North Coast Music Festival. The Nth Power’s music and message has also taken them all the way to Australia, to perform at Caloundra Music Festival, as well as Costa Rica’s The Best Festival and at the Harvest Festival in Midlothian, ON, Canada. The band’s simple-yet potent messages of love are spoken in a language that anyone, on any continent, can easily understand.
The future is indeed beyond bright for Nikki Glaspie and her band of troubadours The Nth Power, as more and more people get hip to the magic brew that they are sharing in all four corners of the land. Yet if you ask her for a few words about her career prospects moving forward, she offers this life mantra instead.
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