Although he started out on the piano at eight, Nat Simpkins switched to tenor sax at the age of 13 on the advice of his doctor, who suggested that playing this horn would help cure him of asthma. He later studied sax with Gerry Bergonzi. There were a couple of experiences which led Simpkins to be a captive of the jazz muse. As a teenager, he sneaked into such noted New York City jazz emporiums as Birdland and the Five Spot to hear the Jazz Messengers, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, and other reigning jazz masters of the times. Another factor was the influence of the so-called school of Texas Tenors who would allow Simpkins to sit in with them. Arnett Cobb, Buddy Tate, and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson all were major shapers of Simpkins' tough tenor style. During a professional career which began in the early '80s, Simpkins has appeared with many major jazz figures in addition to the Texas Tenors, including Ray Bryant, Branford Marsalis, and the Count Basie alumnae band, the Countsmen. He has worked at festivals and at such important jazz venues as the Village Vanguard. Along the way, Simpkins has produced or co-produced 13 albums for the now defunct Muse label and for his own label, Bluejay Records. He also has a considerable teaching practice which includes lessons on most of the single reed instruments as well as trumpet, trombone, and piano.
Simpkins' horn is immediately recognizable. He is a hard driving, hard bopping "tough" tenor who leaves nothing on the club or studio floor. But like most tough tenors, he can become soft and expressive when playing a slow, romantic ballad. And like many of his fellow jazz artists from that school, such as Gene Ammons, he likes to work in a combo anchored by an organ. Organist David Braham is his favorite collaborator working on Simpkins' 1997 release, Spare Ribs. Simpkins has returned the favor by showing up on Braham's Blue Gardenia. In addition to playing professionally and teaching, Simpkins time is also taken up with composing, arranging, dealing with the vicissitudes of being a company executive, gigging, and listening to his Texas Tenor mentors. ~ Dave Nathan, Rovi