“I was walking around with a few friends from my high school,” recalls Nostalgics member Alex Cherenfant Jr. ’13 of meeting his future bandmate, Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey ’13, during prefrosh weekend four years ago. “We ran into Ben at a CityStep info session. He kind of just stuck around with us and we tried to ditch him,” he remembers.
Cherenfant could never shake him off, but as the day wore on, the vocalist discovered that he and Naddaff-Hafrey, a guitarist, shared a love of soul music. When they arrived on campus their freshman year, they met jazz keyboardist and fellow soul devotee Charles G. Gertler ’13, and the three decided to form the band that would eventually become The Nostalgics.
Cherenfant, Gertler, and Naddaff-Hafrey set out to find fellow freshmen with an ear for soul. “We postered up and down the stairs of Lamont,” Naddaff-Hafrey, a Crimson Arts writer and former Arts executive, admits of their recruiting methods. “It’s kind of illegal…but it’s very effective.”
After auditions, they ended up collecting five other freshmen to round out the group: vocalist Leah Reis-Dennis ’13, alto saxophonist Patrick H. Lauppe ’13, a Crimson Arts writer, baritone saxophonist Jackson F. Cashion ’13, an inactive Crimson Editorial writer, bassist Noah S. Guiney ’13, a Crimson Arts executive, and drummer Burt K. Mayer ’13.
It was a new frontier for the eight musicians—none besides Naddaff-Hafrey had played soul music before. “I was always a jazz player,” says Cashion, although he had inherited his father’s interest in soul.
“I had listened to soul music, but I never actually played in a soul group,” Guiney says.
The novice Nostalgics spent the rest of the year practicing, and their first-ever performance was at a party in the Dudley Co-op during their sophomore fall, followed shortly by a gig at the Fox Club. “There were so many people in that room that the walls were sweating,” Gertler remembers.
The Nostalgics’ lively performances quickly made them a popular choice for House formals, and a Battle of the Bands win last year brought them to the stage at Yardfest. The Nostalgics have found a niche on campus as Harvard’s best—and only—live band, and when they take the stage, a crowd always turns out to dance and sing along to their takes on classic Motown hits. “People have heard a lot of the songs even if they don’t know the artist,” Mayer says.
Reis-Dennis intends to record a demo album and audition for the television show “The Voice” after she graduates, while the rest of the members have plans to head into other careers. Still, they all see music as a lifelong pursuit. “All of us will have another job and play music,” Reis-Dennis says.
“What’s been so great about this is that I know now that whatever street I end up living on, I’ll be able to find a place to play,” Lauppe agrees.
Even so, the Nostalgics are making the most of their last months together. This January, they will do a small tour playing ski lodges in Vermont, and in the spring they’ll be back on campus playing their stand-by covers and some of their own original songs.
“Hopefully we can just keep playing shows and keep writing,” Gertler says of the months ahead.
“We’ll probably spend a lot of time thinking about how great the last three years have been,” Naddaff-Hafrey laughs.
Lauppe nods his head in agreement. “Yeah,” he says. “We’re pretty nostalgic."