In The Spotlight - Chris Norton

Chris Norton’s presence commands a room where even the most reserved are gripped by his persuasive musicality and personal charisma. His repertoire ranges broadly from jazz, big band era classics, R&B of the 60’s and 70’s, peppered with Prince, a dose of James Brown, and the occasional charged rendition of contemporary pop. Never anachronistic or predictable, Norton infuses each tune with novel and powerful arrangements, vigorously executed by his by his band, reviving familiar melodies with a primed intensity. If you’re not into dancing, Norton won’t have it. Resistance is futile.

Impressed by his latest set at The Roxy, I asked Chris a few questions about his upcoming gig with David Johansen at the Django. I was curious about the connection between these two performers, both rooted in some of the highest points of the history of modern music.

How did it come to pass that you’re performing with David Johansen?

I actually found out on Facebook two days ago. I am super stoked about it!

Oh I see! I thought you two may have had some history, both New Yorkers, definitely hints of crossover in the body of work?

Actually I was born in North Carolina but really feel my roots are in North East Florida as I moved to the Jacksonville area when I was 9. When I was 17 or so I started playing with bar bands that were really into old R&B, soul music, blues, southern rock, jazz. There’s something about the South and how the musicians approach the music. Surfing, fishing, humid, swampy wilderness. Very laid back lifestyle. The vibe just gets in your head and ears and comes out in the music.

Now I live in the East Village in a loft with my Fiancé, Garance.  It’s our love nest.  Home. I love downtown because I love being a pedestrian. I walk a lot, just taking in humanity. I love people watching and just being around the human buzz. The hustle. Things are alive! I also like to fish the river in Battery Park this time of year.  I’m actually going tonight after I finish this interview.

So it all started at 17, then?

No, I’d sit at the piano and make up little tunes when I was maybe around 6 years old. And then the trumpet became an interest. Singing came around the age of 25 when a vocalist in one of the R&B bands left.  I then grabbed the mic and I really bombed the first gig. It was terrible, I literally teared up because it wasn’t happening.  People were just staring at me, not dancing, not moving. Things then clicked, I learned how to tell the story of the song through my own experiences. I live the song and let the listener live through it with me; the musical influences of my past and musical ears take care of the rest.

You’ve clearly mastered that end of it by now.  Your band is also extremely talented, and you guys have a connection that really resonates in your performances.

I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful team. We now play together so much that I can just about do anything and the band is right there with me. That is bliss for a frontman that sings several styles on a gig as well as my stage antics. They just get it…. me. I love those guys and I’m going take them with me to the top.

What are some things you especially like about playing at the Roxy?

The Roxy has been such a great experience. The president and his team really support live music and respect the artists. Brian Newman has brought a new energy and momentum to the cause.  Roxy is becoming a serious force in the music scene and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.  It’s my home base. The wait staff and bartenders are super cool and make me feel at home. I feel so good when I walk in there to play a show. Good vibes at the Roxy. It’s a lovefest over there.

I noticed your neat whiskey on the piano while you performed. What kind?

I’ve been sipping on Eagle Rare lately…bourbon whiskey. I usually order it neat and “deep”.  The “deep” part ensures that it’ll last a whole set. I also like a neat Rye (Ritten House)  but truthfully, I’ll drink anything brown and neat that is in a rocks glass.  Readers….Feel free to send your favorites up to the stage for a taste test.  Anytime!

Chris Norton plays every Thursday evening in The Django at The Roxy Hotel. See him perform tonight with David Johansen at 8:00pm. Reserve your table here.