“Naughty and Rebirth at the Wolf tonight for free!” I yelled to my friends while sprawled across our living room couch one morning during my first Mardi Gras season. Two fellow locals responded with equal excitement, exclaiming “Seriously?!” and fist pumping the air respectively. One person who was in town visiting for the holiday responded by asking if we were speaking English and what the heck our gibberish meant. But for natives and locals alike, we know it isn’t gibberish, it’s New Orleans.
Naughty Professor’s mighty stage presence, impeccable talent, and attention to detail first swept over me years ago at a packed show when they opened for Flow Tribe at the Maple Leaf. The show at the Howlin’ Wolf referenced above was only my second time witnessing the magic of Ian Bowman, John Culbreth, Bill Daniel, Nick Ellman, Sam Shahin, and Noah Young playing their hearts out, and it certainly wouldn’t be my last. In the fall of last year, I got the opportunity to be on the road with the guys for the better part of a month, only solidifying my respect and love for the music and subtle showmanship of Naughty Professor.
Katie Sikora: When did you start playing music? Why do you play the music you do? Do you draw inspiration from other genres as well and if so, which ones?
Naughty Professor: The band was formed in 2010 during the first week most of us moved to New Orleans. We were hungry and excited to be immersed in a place that had so much to offer musically and otherwise. Most of our formal training in college was in jazz, specifically bebop and hard bop. Some of us studied classical music as well. But our original music is a product of wanting to break the barriers of genre and to create something unique and true to ourselves. And our excitement to share that with others is what drives us to continue creating and touring. The eclectic soundtrack of our tour van is a testament to our endless source of inspiration from all genres. It could vary from Shostakovich to Kendrick Lamar to Tigran Hamasyan to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. Maybe some ZZ Top, too. We like to mix it up.
KS: Where did you grow up?
NP: Ian Bowman – Santa Cruz, California, John Culbreth – Houston, Texas, Bill Daniel – Houston, Texas, Nick Ellman – Chicago Illinois, Sam Shahin – Austin, Texas/Washington, D.C., Noah Young – Plainfield, Vermont.
KS: Describe your music.
NP: Our music is honest, progressive, and unapologetic. Too jazz for funk, too funk for jazz. Too much rock for one hand. The perfect blend to encompass our myriad of influences.
KS: What has been your favorite performance experience in New Orleans thus far?
NP: Jazz Fest is always such an incredible time here and it always means a lot to us to be able to play at such a sacred festival in this place we call home. In addition to that, our annual Krewe Du Vieux show has become something we look forward to all year. In a city with such culturally rich traditions, it’s really special to be building some of our own here.
KS: Which New Orleans musicians most inspire you?
NP: This almost feels like a trick question! The list is too long to name, but a few individuals that hold a special place in our hearts include Louis Armstrong, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, James Black, and George Porter, Jr.
KS: Favorite place to catch live music in NOLA?
NP: It’s hard to pick just one because there’s always so much incredible live music happening all over the city. Some favorites of ours are Tipitina’s, Maple Leaf, Snug Harbor, One Eyed Jacks, and Sidebar.
KS: What do you love most about this city?
NP: The eclectic spirit that connects the people here. There’s such a strong sense of community while everyone is invited to be true to themselves.
KS: What is your favorite non-musical activity to do in New Orleans?
NP: The food culture is a big part of living here that we all absolutely indulge in (often, happily). But we also like to play tennis and enjoy the beautiful parks and museums (Louisiana residents get free admission to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art on Thursdays and the New Orleans Museum of Art on Wednesdays).
KS: Favorite food to eat in NOLA?
NP: This question is overwhelming. One restaurant that comes to mind is Red’s Chinese in the Bywater for that Asian-Cajun fusion. Bet you can’t find that anywhere else in the world! We also used to live near Domilise’s and have enjoyed many po-boys there.
KS: What are your next performances?
NP: We’re currently answering these interview questions while en route to a weekend of jazz festivals in Canada. Also looking forward to more international travel in the fall, including trips to China, Spain, and France. But our next hometown show is at Tipitina’s Free Fridays on August 2.
KS: Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself in regards to your music?
NP: We’re so lucky to be able to do what we do and call this magical city of New Orleans home. Thank you to everyone who supports live music and thank you for taking the time to highlight local musicians.