Heather Brooks
Turns It Over

by Andrew Elias

Heather Brooks has been entertaining folks in southwest Florida for years, with her various bands and more recently as a duo with multi-instrumentalist Mike Rogers. Classically trained, schooled in the southern hymns of her church, and excited by her parents’ jazz and rhythm & blues records, she began writing her own songs, recording and performing.

Inspired and influenced by the cool jazz of Grover Washington, the stylish pop of Steely Dan and the funky R&B of Prince, Heather’s writing is personal and soulful, reminiscent of Laura Nyro, Carole King and Rickie Lee Jones, while her music shares the rhythms and romance of contemporaries such as Norah Jones, Lizz Wright and Corinne Bailey Ray.

The night we saw Heather with her band they played an energetic set of infectious originals and a few covers, each a gem.

The band—Mike Rogers on guitar, drummer Darrell Nutt and bassist Hector Rivera—was having fun, stretching melodies and rocking a bit. Heather alternated between retreating behind her keyboards, singing soulfully, and rapping center stage, emphasizing the fun of the funk.

My Associate Publisher, Randi McAlpine, and I chatted with Heather Brooks and Mike Rogers one afternoon at Il Pomorodoro (Gladiolus Blvd. in Fort Myers) as they were preparing for the release of Heather’s extraordinary debut CD, Turn It Over.

Andrew: Are you both from this area?

Heather Brooks: I was born at Lee Memorial and grew up in Morehaven in the center of the state, by the southwest corner of Lake Okeechobee. There were about 3,000 people there. My dad worked for the electric company and ambulance service and my mom took care of us and other kids. She was a substitute teacher and worked at the bank.

What kinds of music were you exposed to?
Heather: My mom & dad’s records. Anything from Earth, Wind & Fire to Weather Report to Grover Washington Jr. and Steely Dan.

So that’s the first music you were interested in?

Heather: I first played music in church.

So then the next musical jump you made was…

Heather: I was in a tiny little band for awhile and then we moved to Fort Myers when I was 13 and I got into marching bands and jazz bands all through school and played piano for my church.

When did you decide—or should I say, realize—you were becoming a performer and a songwriter?

Heather: It was a decision. I never wanted music to be my job. When I was going to school I kind of strayed away from that and took sociology classes and teaching classes, but then realized I didn’t like anything else. So about six years ago I decided, “OK, this is what I’m doing.”

You played music in college?

Heather: Yes. I played for men’s and women’s ensembles.

You went to college in Tennessee, but you don’t play country music?

Heather: No.

So when you decided to play music, how did you make your living performing in this area?

Heather: At the time I was also bartending off and on and all my roommates were musicians and kind of humored me and put the band together with our first six songs and just kind of got lucky

Mike, were you always playing with her?

Mike Rogers: I came in after the band was already together.

Heather: It was in the first year or two.

And what was the connection?

Mike: I saw her play at Shannon’s

Are you from this area, too?

Mike: I’m from New Mexico originally. I moved to Naples when I was eight, graduated from Naples High, saw her playing at Shannon’s and said, “Do you need a sax or guitar or bass player?“ And that was it. She called me.

And you write together?

Mike: Now we do, but we didn’t at that time. I had a band called Resolution for five or six years or so, and then had the Mike Rogers Band, and then had a funk band—that’s when I met Heather. I think I was in the band with her for about six months and then went out to San Francisco, made a record, came back and then started up again.

I can hear the Weather Report and Grover Washington and Steely Dan influences in your music. What music influences and inspires you now?

Mike: We’re both really big Prince fans. That’s my model of the perfect musician.

Heather & Mike: We like Miles Davis, Coltrane all the jazz stuff.

How did you get into that kind of jazz? You’re not hearing it on the radio. You have to go out of your way to get into that music.

Heather: The names you hear floating around. I got into Coltrane’s A Love Supreme maybe eight or ten years ago and really fell in love with that, and then Mike turned me onto Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue just within the last couple of years.

That’s interesting that you would be into that music, although I guess going from church music to A Love Supreme really isn’t that big of a jump. So now are you full time musicians?

Heather & Mike: Yes.

Where do you play?

Heather: Knuckleheads on Fridays with the whole band (Hip Aversion).

You have a full band and then you play as a duo? And Darrell, the drummer, has his own band, Funky Sea Funky Dew? What’s the difference between the band and the duo?

Mike: The duo is stripped down to basics. You can hear lyrics and the real vibe of the songs. The band gets more flashy, with more jamming and more of everything.

The party mix.

Mike: We try to make it dancier.

Heather: I would say the duo is more focused on the singer/songwriter elements and the moodier kind of more eclectic, less funky songs.

The duo is acoustic guitar and piano?

Mike: Yeah. It’s more of a... mellow’s not the word…

Heather: Easy listening. Whereas the band is more ‘clubby’—dance music.

It’s the difference between Miles’ Bitches Brew, where you have a dozen amplified musicians on the stage, or Kind of Blue, with just an acoustic quartet.

Heather: Yes.

Mike: We have to play a certain way so people don’t leave the restaurant—so our style has to conform to that.

How much of what you play now is original music?

Heather: About 75-80% is original.

Mike: As much as we can get in there.

And you get into a little rapping. I saw Lucinda Williams do that a little. I like that.

Heather: I’m glad you like that.

You’re trying to reach the youngsters, huh?

Heather: No. I don’t think that’s going to happen in this area so much it’s just influences. I’ve always loved like Tribe Called Qwest—the older, more intellectual, lyrically conscious hip hop. But I love beats and bass lines

Have you ever played out of town?

Heather: This band played the Midwest Music Summit in Indianapolis, where they pick bands from ones submitted.

Do you guys have management or are you doing everything yourself?

Heather: We’re doing it all ourselves. We have the Atlantis Music Conference in October that we just got selected for. We’re going to play as a duo.

Is the new CD the Heather Brooks CD or the Heather Brooks/Mike Rogers CD? Or is it a touchy subject and I shouldn’t try to make trouble?

Heather: I would say Heather Brooks and Mike Rogers…

Mike: Don’t ask me because I’ll always say it’s hers.

Heather: The thing I give him so much credit for is arrangements and production. Also Mike played all the bass, all the guitar, saxophone, a lot of the strings and keyboard arrangements. So, basically, I sang and played piano and did some string arrangements.

What does it say on the cover?

Mike: Heather Brooks

Is the CD all original songs?

Heather: All originals.

Are you happy with it?

Heather: Absolutely

Did you do it all on a Mac?

Heather: Two Macs and then Darrell did the drums at his house.

How are you handling the distribution of the CD?

Heather: They’re for sale at our shows. The band plays Thursday nights at City Tavern in downtown Fort Myers and Friday nights at Knuckleheads in Estero, and the duo plays Wednesday nights at Dwyers and Saturday nights at The Lighthouse in Fort Myers. The CD release party is at City Tavern on September 13.
It’s in local stores like Brent’s Music, CD Warehouse, Planet Earth, Blackhawk Coffee Cafe, Replay, Sweet Bean Coffee Cafe...

And it’s available on our own website— www.heather-brooks.com.

I’m going to send them to all the independent labels that accept unsolicited material—that’s the next step. And some internet sites have contacted us—like iTunes and CD Baby.

What are your plans now?

Heather: Writing, recording…. •

from the September-October 2006 issue

Heather Brooks

Mike Rogers

The band (left to right): Darrell Nutt, Hector Rivera, Mike Rogers and Heather Brooks
photographs by Darrell Nutt