From Congo Square to Lincoln’s hometown

Roger Kimball left the Big Easy just in the nick of time

Untitled Document Roger Kimball relocated to Springfield from New Orleans in 2005, only a few months before Hurricane Katrina hit. His wife took a position with the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, and so they just missed the disaster. An all-around musician known for his saxophone work, Kimball grew up just south of New Orleans, getting a degree in music education from Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., and studying classical clarinet and jazz-performance saxophone at Loyola University in New Orleans. Starting in 1978, Kimball had a productive professional life in New Orleans, playing high-profile gigs and private dates, making music and making a living. In junior high school he had befriended bassist Tony Hall, who went on to work professionally with such notables as Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews, Jewel, Harry Connick Jr., and Trey Anastasio, and Hall uses his old pal on gigs whenever possible. This Mardi Gras season, Kimball heads home to New Orleans, where he’ll join Hall for an official show with Connick and sit-ins with other bands, including Ivan Neville’s group Dumpstafunk. Since his arrival in Springfield, Kimball has stayed busy, sitting in or playing regularly with the Debbie Ross Band, Razin’ Kane, Moroccan Soul, Dreaming in Colours, Real Time, and other local pop and jazz groups. Though Kimball says he’s thrilled to be playing with other bands, a few months ago he began forming a group to work the area and expand his personal vision. “I’ve never led a band before. I wanted to start my own thing,” he says. “I like talking to people in the audience and making them feel like they are part of the show.”
He’s working with some local maestros — Jeff Cunningham on bass, Mike Newbury on drums, and Joe Calandrino on guitar — plus 21-year old Zac Radwine on keyboards. They perform funk and jazz tunes, including New Orleans standards, with Kimball’s distinctive saxophone sound driving it all. “We call it smooth jazz with a funky edge to it. We’re going out of the box to do challenging stuff,” he says. “The whole concept is to hit the people with musical knowledge but play so they can still tap their foot to it.”
Kimball has adapted well to life in the land of Lincoln. He heads a music group each Sunday at Chatham United Methodist Church that includes his wife on vocals and hopes to begin teaching at an area college sometime soon. Other plans include meeting and jamming with more musicians in central Illinois’ rich and varied talent pool. “People are very friendly here,” Kimball says. “I’ve found good musicians to work with. For that I’m very thankful.”

Roger Kimball and the Funky Music Dept. perform at Jazz Central Station, atop the Hilton Springfield (700 E. Adams, 217-789-1530) from 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday, Feb. 9.
Contact Tom Irwin at

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