When attending events such as the Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions at NYU, the evenings are always very special and intimate views of the craft of songwriting as told by the Masters themselves. There was the expectation that the event last night with guest Nile Rodgers would be of that caliber, but for those lucky enough to be in attendance, it was so much more.
After opening remarks from the Director of NYU’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions Robert Rowe, Songwriters Hall of Fame Education Committee Chair and Vice Chair Robbin Ahrold and Karen Sherry, and introduction by host/interviewer and NYU Songwriter-In-Residence Phil Galdston, Nile Rodgers came to the stage. With Galdston’s expert guidance, he proceeded to open up his creative life to the audience. He spoke of his beginnings with a troubled childhood, and picking up the jazz guitar at the comparably elder age of 17. He took to music like the proverbial duck to water, learning composition and music theory, and becoming a virtuoso on classical and jazz guitar.
In the early 1970s, Nile met Bernard Edwards who convinced him to trade in his jazz guitar for the same vintage 1960 Stratocaster he brought with him last night. Bernard helped enlighten Nile to the value of the pop song, expanding on his classical and jazz “roots,” and they were off and running. They formed The Big Apple Band, and then the inimitable Chic, netting a string of signature hits such as “We Are Family,” “Everybody Dance,” “I’m Coming Out” and the timeless “Le Freak.” Nile spoke of their long and incredibly productive collaboration, songwriting and producing for several artists including Diana Ross, David Bowie, Sister Sledge and Madonna.
Anyone can talk about their accomplishments, especially those that actually changed the face of popular music, but Nile was riveting. He let us have a glimpse into the genius of his thought process…how he is always composing and living his life to his own soundtrack. He casually threw out a few notes that were running around in his mind at that moment, and spoke of what he called the “Deep Hidden Meaning” that inspired his songwriting. He related defining moments that occurred when speaking with his early mentors, questioning how good a song has to be. He has lived by the answers “make it better” and “write what you know” from that moment on.
Songwriters Hall of Fame’s Robbin Ahrold and Karen Sherry summed the evening up in their prophetic opening remarks: “Since joining with NYU, our Master Sessions have featured interviews with songwriting legends including Hal David, Jimmy Webb, and Glenn Frey.
Presenting these great writers speaks to both sides of The Songwriter’s Hall of Fame mission. . .to celebrate the legends of songwriting, and to extend their legacy by helping to prepare new songwriters through better understanding of the process of their creative genius. Nile Rodgers fits that description to a T. . .a superstar writer, acclaimed producer, legendary performer and so much more. . .he is a jewel in the crown of American music. . . .and we could find no more appropriate interviewee for our program tonight.”
We won’t soon forget the inspiration and magic of that evening that belonged to Nile.