We're two days into rehearsals for concerts this Friday and Saturday with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, with guest percussionist Cyro Baptista, performing the music of the great Brazilian composer Moacir Santos, aka the “Brazilian Duke.” This concert follows a format that has for the past few years helped to form and identify the orchestra’s sound as of late, one that really utilizes the creativity of this group: all the arrangements are crafted by members of the band.
We have just come off a three-week tour. I'm not going to lie: this was a particularly rough one, with long rides on a bus of suspicious quality and condition. Just before we took possession of this substandard form of transportation it had been used by a sorority, and running along each side of the bus were painted, in large colorful triangles, the words Delta Sigma Theta. When we pulled into town, locals pointed and hung around to get a glimpse of the group of young woman exiting the bus, only to be (certainly) disappointed by the collection of tired, raggedly dressed, unshaven men that piled out, grabbing suitcases and beelining it into the hotel to try to rest for an hour or two before leaving for sound check.
The scene on the bus was quite a sight: at any given time there was a minimum of six to eight laptops out, with mini keyboards, and chords and earphones attached. Cats were on a mission. Wynton, just as the band was leaving town, delegated the arranging responsibilities to the arrangers in the band (there are ten!) for this upcoming concert and we wasted no time getting to work. Even the dressing rooms and green rooms at the venues became temporary computer labs.
What I love about this is that there is a healthy competitive spirit to not only get the arrangements done (in time!) but to come up with something unique, something that challenges the band. Everyone is checking in with each other - "Hey, man, what do you think if I have the first two voices on flutes, and have it doubled by muted bone down an octave?" or "Is one bar enough time to go to cup mute?" or "check this out (handing over noise-canceling earphones); what do you think of this passage?" This sharing of each our particular expertise and ideas helps us create a body of work that is varied in colors and approaches but consistent in it's objective. We still have a bit or work tomorrow to get these charts together but it is going to be a hell of a weekend of music. I hope you can come out to Rose Hall and check it out. IF not, it will be live-streamed both nights!
We recorded the Presidential Suite on Sunday, and I can't express how thrilled I am to have this day arrive, and experience such great attitude and musicianship from everyone involved. We got all eight movements plus the Overture done in eight hours. My executive producer, Kabir Sehgal, invited some wonderful guests, and two of the other contributing producers, Adam Inselbuch and Michael Fricklas, also were attendance. Some brought family and friends and there was such a great vibe in the studio all day.
Our engineer, Rob Macomber, is so easy to work with, and everything, with the help of his interns, and our assistant Jay Sgroi, went smoothly.
Our lead trumpet player, Ryan Kisor badly inured his shoulder the day before the recording and played the entire session with one hand. Heroic is the only word for it.
Joe Temperly made a cameo appearance, playing the first eight bars of the movement Churchill, a solo section I wrote with him in mind. He is a big Churchill fan and was excited to play this on the premier in January, but he ended up missing that performance, so I am so happy to have him bring his big, beautiful sound to the piece.
I want to thank all the people who made a contribution to this project. Without all of you this recording couldn't have happened. Thank you!
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Men Say the Darndest Things - New Show, New Music!
Actress and writer Trish McCall has a new show for which I wrote original music - seventeen jazz pieces that serve as interludes between each scene. "Men Say the Darndest Things" is not a musical, but a dramatic play full of irony and humor (and not for kids!). The show has a limited run and I hope you can make it. The music will be performed by the Robert Rucker Project. I will be there on October 16th to check it out! Show runs September 25th - October 18th at the Black River Center for the Arts, 345 Lenox Avenue.
Trish's concept to include live music between each scene is pretty unusual for a straight theater piece. Trish told me at the rehearsal the other day the first two directors she considered asked her to eliminate the music, that it wasn't important to the story. But Trish's vision of having these pieces evoke specific feelings and set up the scenes was so clear she decided to direct it herself. Although not performed during the scenes, the music is almost a fifth character.
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Chucho Valdés, Pedrito Martinez & Wynton Marsalis
I have been rehearsing all week with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for this weekend's concerts with guests Chucho Valdés and Pedrito Martinez. These amazing Cuban musicians are featured in an extended work by Wynton, blending jazz with the traditional folkloric music of Cuba and the Santería religion to create a work that illustrates the ability of music to elevate us from social and political unrest to the greatest heights of humanity.
It has been an intense week putting this together. The music is complex, but the end result was worth the hard work. Our first concert last night was grooving and uplifting. CLICK HERE
for more information.
The concerts will be live-streamed so if you can't be there in person be sure to check it out.FridaySaturday
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JLCO Fall Tour
I am getting ready to hit the road with the JLCO. It's always great to bring the music to people around the world.
September 24 -- Lawrence, KS Lied Center
September 25 -- Manhattan, KS Kansas State University - McCain Auditorium
September 26 -- Lincoln, NE University of Nebraska - Lied Center
September 27 -- Champaign, IL Krannert Center for the Performing Arts - Foellinger Great Hall
September 28 -- South Bend, IN DeBartolo Performing Arts Center - Leighton Concert Hall
September 30 -- Bowling Green, KY Western Kentucky University - Van Meter Hall
October 1 -- Louisville, KY The Kentucky Center - Whitney Hall
October 2 and 3 -- St. Louis, MO Jazz St Louis - Jazz at the Bistro
October 4 -- Germantown, TN Germantown Performing Arts Center
October 5 -- Nashville, TN Nashville Symphony - Schermerhorn Symphony Center
October 7 -- Charlotte, NC The Belk Theater
October 8 -- Chapel Hill, NC University of North Carolina - Memorial Hall
October 10 -- Bloomsburg, PA Bloomsburg University - Mitrani Hall
October 11 -- Greenvale, NY Tilles Center
October 12 -- Rutland, VT Paramount Theater
October 13 -- Hanover, NH Dartmouth College - Hopkins Center for the Arts
October 14 -- Quebec, QC CND Festival de Jazz de Quebec - Capitole Theatre
I don’t think of myself as particularly shy, but there is something about playing two sets of intense music which makes me feel a little quiet, a bit reserved afterwards. This has caused me over the years to shy away from conversations immediately following a concert with people from the audience that, very understandably, want to share their thoughts and feelings about what they just experienced.
I suppose this tendency is easy to be misunderstood, and I was once told “you need to connect with people - they want to express something to you. You should give them that.” So I have become (slowly) better about this.
But what I experienced a couple nights ago in Knoxville, TN is the kind of thing that could cause me to make steps backwards in this progress toward a more extroverted attitude. Following our two sets of expressive, exploring and swinging music, I packed up my horns, loaded them into their flight cases, and headed to the stage door. This exited out onto an alley-like street, and many of the main theater exit doors also emptied out onto this small street.
As I walked up the block, back to the hotel, the street became more and more populated with concert-goers. I smiled as I passed people, some saying “nice concert” or “sounded great” or “thank you.” I thanked them back but kept moving. When I got to the corner a man recognized me and said “Boy, YOU sucked,” and laughed, showing off to his wife. I know he was being sarcastic and trying to be hip/cool, but it still felt slightly alarming. Before I could formulate a response he talked quickly, mostly about himself. I was still recovering from his first comment when our trombonist Chris Crenshaw approached the intersection. The man saw Chris and blurted out “Hey, here is another one who sucked.” I took this opportunity to make my escape, crossing the street while the light was still red.
I got a couple blocks closer to the hotel and short-cutted it across a parking lot, passing a man opening his car door. “Were you in the band” he said, and as I got closer. “Oh, yeah you were. Can I ask you something? What is your background?”
“Yeah, where are you from?”
“Oh, I’m originally from Los Angeles but live in New York.”
“Ah. I was wondering where you were from because you were one of the more reserved guys in the band.”
“Yeah, your expressions.”
“Oh, I see. That’s what you took away from the concert?” I though maybe he had been curious where I was from because he heard some kind of influence in my playing.
“Los Angeles, huh? You still from there?”
“Am I still from there?”
“Yeah, there is this great radio station, plays big band hits. You’d love it.”
“I’m sure I would. If I were still from there. Have a good night.”
A block later I was back in the hotel. Safe...
I was in the park the other day and heard a mockingbird singing. The mockingbird has a reputation for stealing other birds' songs, but I think this is a bad rap. What is special about this bird is that it makes up its own songs. It hops around on a branch offering melody after melody, never seeming to repeat itself. It is the ultimate improvisor. Like the most creative jazz musician, this bird expresses itself in so many ways, with different sound qualities and different lengths of phrases. And it does this for no money, without worrying about who is listening or who is judging. It sings for the pure joy of creating.
The mockingbird is my hero.
19 years ago I was burglarized and lost, among other things, my Uncle Ted’s Selmer Cigar Cutter, the horn he played for years in the studios. He recorded all of Henry Mancini’s music on this horn, including “Dreamsville.” Check it out on Youtube here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrkNDRmamkw
Here is a cover photo
of a record he did with my father, showing the alto.When I recorded my CD “The Mancini Project” I used the cigar cutter alto I bought a few years later, and I tried to play it like him. But I’m not him...and I didn’t have his horn.
I am just putting it out there that if you see a gold-plated Selmer alto sax with the serial number 15,535 I would love to get it back. It was my main horn until it was stolen, but more than that it (quite obviously) has tremendous sentimental value.
Many young players can’t afford to own top professional instruments, which can cost thousands of dollars. Instead they end up buying inexpensive student horns that do not play well. It’s a shame some students, because of their economic situation, can’t play a good quality horn.
I am excited to launch “Project: Pro Student Horn” which offers great playing saxophones to qualifying students at a very low cost ($500). I have discovered vintage horns that play great but are overlooked. They have a great sound, solid mechanics, and good intonation. (By the way, I just recorded my last two albums - "The Creep" and "Chakra" - with two of these saxophones, and have been using them touring and performing with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.)
These horns are repaired and ready to go. The first five will come with a new mouthpiece, neck strap, cork grease, reed guard, ligature and cap. (I have worked with Beechler to design a mouthpiece specifically for this project.) These horns have a variety of small scratches and dents, like most vintage horns, but they are strictly cosmetic and do not affect the sound or playability.
I love these horns so much I am reluctant to let them go!
“PSH” horns will only be available to those who cannot afford to purchase an expensive professional instrument and would be forced otherwise to play cheap, poorly made instruments. They will also be available to very young students whose parents are hesitant to make an expensive commitment.
I am starting with alto saxes, and expect to do ten the first year. I will not be making a profit on these horns.
For more information please visit: http://www.tednash.com/psh.html
On this page I have photos and videos of me playing and talking about each horn.
I entered the bathroom of the Rose Hall the other day, on a break from rehearsing for this weekend’s concerts, and on the PA system I heard the sound of a soulful tenor sax in the upper register. It didn’t take me more than two or three notes to recognize Stan Getz. As I listened I couldn’t help but to think that we are on this planet for such a short time, and in that time we can only hope to change something, affect someone. That is the most we can ask for, and what we should try to achieve while we have this little bit of time.
Many people have developed the primary goal of making money, being famous, getting what they want no matter how they get it. If instead they focussed their energy on how to make this planet a more beautiful place, this planet would be a more beautiful place.
I had the chance to meet and hang out with Stan Getz a couple times. The first was when I was seventeen, during my first European tour, with the Don Ellis band. We were playing the Juan-les-Pins Jazz Festival (Jazz à Juan), the same venue where Miles recorded “Live in Europe” in the early 60s. Fifteen years later I was on this exact same stage, overwhelmed with excitement when the MC announced our band - it was the very same guy who introduced Miles’ band. There was no mistaking that voice. My worn out copy of Miles’ record should serve as acceptable evidence I am not mistaken in this fact.
After the concert, during which I struggled to get through a solo in 7/4 on Don’s “Pussy Wiggle Stomp,” a man with a square face and thick glasses approached the sax section as we were packing up our horns, He introduced himself: Stan Getz. The reed section dropped what we were doing and were all over him like a cheap suit. He had played the night before and was taking a couple extra days to hang out in Antibes.
The next day was off for the Ellis band and I grabbed a towel and headed down to the beach to swim and get burned. I spread out my towel, took off my shirt and enjoyed the view. (Besides having amazing blue/green water the beach was topless!) I diligently studied my environment and who was laying about three towels away - Mr. Getz, and his wife, Monica. I went over and re-introduced myself. Stan asked me to join them, which I did (duh). His strong, healthy physique prompted be to say “I heard you were a drug addict, but you’re in such great shape. Was that just a big rumor?’ (please, remember I am seventeen, and greener than a farmers market cucumber). He laughed a hearty laugh and explained he was from “good Russian stock” then showed me the faint scars on his arms.
His wife, Monica, was super cool. From Sweden. She had become a US citizen so she could vote against Nikon. How could you not love her?
After a couple hours of hanging and talking, Stan and Monica took me to a nearby cafe overlooking the Mediterranean. Just maybe the best day of my life.
Here’s a photo of Stan and me that day. If the photo doesn’t work, click this link
A year later I moved to New York and one of the first performances I went to check out was Stan playing at the long-defunct club Storyville. I brought my horn, thinking I might sit in with his quartet (still green, remember). When I got the club it was standing room only. I looked around at the clientele, a who’s who of the saxophone world - Sal Nistico, Bob Mintzer, Pete Yellin among many others, anticipating this rare event. They saw my horn. “What, are you going to sit in?” they almost laughed. I had worked with Sal and Bob on a couple occasions, and they were familiar with my naiveté. “Who knows - maybe,” I responded, optimistically.
On the break I went up to Stan and asked if I could sit in. He looked at me, smiled and said “Sure. I’ll call you up on the next set.” Sometimes it’s great to be young and stupid.
We played “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Body and Soul.” I know my colleagues couldn’t believe what they were seeing. There I was, eighteen and jamming with Stan Getz, Victor Lewis, John Burr and Andy LaVerne.
Not long after this I applied for an NEA grant. I called Stan’s home in Irvington and talked to Monica. I asked if Stan would write a letter of support. She said he was touring but she would be happy to write it and sign his name. Awesome.
Here is the letter (part fiction/part nonfiction):
I am writing to you in order for you to consider the application of young Ted Nash who has applied for a grant.
I have known Ted for many years, and I have seen him grow amazingly in all professional and personal areas. Ted is not only exceptionally gifted both as a performer and as a composer - he has played with my group on several occasions, and we play his composition “Tristemente” regularly.
Ted Nash is an outstanding young man in every way. I cannot think of anyone whose work I have heard during this past year who better deserves recognition both in the performing and the composing area.
The next time I saw Stan was more than ten years later. I was playing with the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and the great singer Diane Shuur was our guest. Stan was Diane’s musical director and featured soloist at the time. Stan had been recently diagnosed with lung cancer. I guess that “good Russian stock” was not invulnerable to earlier years of abuse. His energy was nothing like it was that day on the beach. He seemed humbled by his own fragility. Stan passed a couple years later, not long after Mel Lewis, also from cancer.
Stan had a reputation for being really tough, egotistical and at times quite mean. Every experience I had with him showed the opposite. I feel lucky and privileged to have known him. And the world is a more beautiful place because of him.
When the fifteen directors of the fifteen finalist bands of the 2014 Essentially Ellington high school band competition and festival, hosted by Jazz at Lincoln Center, stepped onto the stage Saturday night at the conclusion of the four-day event to be honored by hundreds of students, parents and supporters, the ovation they received, which lasted easily three deafening minutes, caused the tears I had been holding back earlier in the evening to finally find their way down my cheek.
I am a winner.
I won because I allowed this experience to touch my soul at a deep emotional level. In fact, we all are winners. There was not one person I talked to - teachers, volunteers, staff, students, parents - that didn't say "This is the high point of my year." This annual event has become the pinnacle of what we do at Jazz at Lincoln Center, a culmination of everything we believe in and enjoy doing: education, performance and community service.
I win every year.
This is the seventeenth or eighteenth year I have been involved with the festival and it gets better each year. You can't possibly compare the level of this year's bands to what we were hearing almost two decades ago. The depth of understanding of the jazz language, the sophistication of the solos, the ensembles' use of dynamics and phrasing, is remarkable and inspiring. I think it is safe to say the existence of this festival has been a big part of this growing interest and ability at the high school level.
In some way this festival is a microcosm of what the world should be: a combination of personal incentive, social awareness, a lack of racism and sexism, and plenty of love.
Back in April I was sent out by Jazz at Lincoln Center on a mission in Montclair, New Jersey, where I had the opportunity to workshop the Jazz House Kids, a community band that had been accepted into the top fifteen. The band, run with enthusiasm and passion, by saxophonist Julius Tolentino, was swinging the roof off. In a TV news show called Arts in the City, hosted by Magalie Laguerre-Wilkinson, I predicted the Jazz House Kids would end up in the top three finalists. They did. You can watch “Arts in the City” here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIJE7D9t3es
Each of us in the JLCO is assigned as a mentor to a band participating in the festival. This year I worked with the Community Arts Program from Coral Gables, Florida, and although they didn't make it to the finals, it's hard to say they didn't perform at the same or close to the same level as other bands that did. I think we all develop such an attachment to "our" band that when they don't win we feel we have been cheated. But in all fairness the judges (this year they were Wynton Marsalis, Jeff Hamilton, Dave Berger, Chris Crenshaw and Chuck Israels) must have the toughest time agreeing. It can't be easy, especially when the bands often play different material, making hard to compare directly. Also, when one band has great soloists, and another's ensemble shines, how do you decide which of these attributes is worthy of more points?
It has been a great four days and I want to give it up to Wynton, Todd Stoll, Maegan McHugh, and the whole staff and all the volunteers for a great job and heartwarming experience.
I got a call Friday from trumpeter Marcus Printup, the kind of call that makes you smile ear-to-ear; a reminder that teaching and educating young musicians is one of the most important and gratifying privileges we have.
Marcus was out in Sacramento working with the Rio Americano High School jazz band, helping get them in shape for their participation in this year’s Essentially Ellington jazz festival and competition. Back in 2006 Marcus and I, as part of my Still Evolved quintet tour, did a masterclass at the this same high school. During the class one of the students reluctantly asked how we composed music. We had the student describe something he was hearing or feeling. He expressed a couple ideas. We had the drums and bass set up the groove he wanted, then Marcus and I started improvising around a simple idea he suggested, fooling around with it for a few minutes until we had a theme. Then we started harmonizing it.
As it started to take shape I looked over at the new composer and he was grinning, like “Wow, I wrote this?” It was a groovy little tune.
It’s now eight years later and Marcus has returned to Rio Americano to work with the band, preparing them for their sixth appearance at the EE festival, hosted by Jazz at Lincoln Center, an annual event that has become one of the highlights of our year. During the workshop Marcus asked Josh Murray, the band’s director, what ever happened to the budding composer. Turns out he was so turned on by seeing his song develop that he continued to compose and went on to study at Eastman School of Music and even has his own big band. You can hear some of his music here:
This experience reminds me you never know when you will touch someone.
Speaking of composing. I am always telling students to trust their instincts when composing and arranging, that often their first idea is the best one. What usually causes people to take a long time to write is just simply not making a choice. The first thing that pops into your head is usually as good or better than anything else you come up with. I had the opportunity last weekend to test this theory.
A while back a friend of mine, actress and playwright Trish McCall, asked me to compose the music for a play she wrote featuring four actors and 17 scenes. Each of these seventeen different jazz themes would serve as a transition and set up the vibe for the upcoming scene.
I went to see a reading of the play, called “Men Say the Darndest Things,” and loved it. Trish and I have have been talking about doing this for two years, and I have been procrastinating my ass off. I saw her in late February and she asked how it was going. I told her I would be out on the road the whole month of March and will dedicate my free time to this project.
I returned to NY April 1st with not one composition. I had good intentions, but the tour was pretty intense. Now, with April is practically gone, and with the May sort-of-deadline approaching, I realized I needed to seriously get to work. Seriously.
So Thursday night I drove the Hippie-Mobile out to my cabin in PA, the place I have written many of the movements to “Portrait in Seven Shades,” “Chakra” and “The Presidential Suite.” To say it is quiet at my cabin, surrounded by ten acres of maple trees, is an understatement I might see one car drive by per day. And there’s no cell service and no Internet. There’s very little to do EXCEPT write.
I woke Friday morning, approached my crappy Wurlitzer spinet (whose pervious life was serving as a piece of furniture in some New Jersey home until I bought it on eBay for $150), sat down at the 88s and reminded myself what I have been telling people for years: trust your instinct and go with the first thing you hear.
I looked briefly at my notes (based on Trish’s sample CD), which said something like “Latin intro, medium/up tempo, lots of hits, swing at the 9th bar.” I started. Two days later I had finished composing all seventeen tunes, each with a completely different vibe.
The experience of letting these ideas flow was one of the most intense I can remember in quite a while. This two days of trust reminds me of just how gratifying the journey can be.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra arrived in San Francisco ready to play. And not just music. Anticipating our arrival, and perhaps aware of the bands competitive spirit, a softball game was arranged between the band and the staff at SF Jazz.
We don't take these challenges lightly. Unfortunately, our schedule didn't allow us to practice, even swing a bat before hitting the field, and we heard the SF Jazz staff had a regular softball team. Seemed like the odds were stacked against us. But that didn't stop Carlos, Ali, Wynton, Victor, Jay, Chris, Marcus, myself and a couple of our friends from embracing the challenge.
The call time for the pick up was 10 AM but the van didn't get there until 10:45. There was a danger that we would start losing troops, as people ran off to get coffee and danishes. Making a large group of people wait always creates the risk of abandonment, but we were a loyal, dedicated bunch and when the van finally arrived we piled in.
Getting there also was challenge. Despite three people in our vehicle using GPS phone apps we got totally lost. Drivers were constantly in touch with each other about where to go. At one point we circumnavigated an entire park before discovering we were in the wrong one.
We finally found the park, parked the van and walked a quarter mile past little-leaguers, kiddie soccer games and picnics to arrive at the field we had reserved from 11-1.
Most of SF Jazz were there and were busy throwing softballs back and forth, doing light batting practice. We were clearly underprepared in many ways.
Since we were the visiting team we took the first at-bat. Jay led off with a base hit. Wynton was next and smashed a ball deep into left-center. The ball slid between a couple players and Wynton was able to make all the way home, bringing in two runs. I was next with a base hit getting me to first. This luck continued and at the end of the first inning we were up 6-2. But this is a critical moment. I read somewhere that when you are ahead something happens psychologically and you let up. This is particularly true for tennis players. I mentioned this to Wynton and he said "Oh, no. I always push as hard as I can, There is no letting up." At one point, as we watched a couple of our teammates score, widening the gap, Marcus turned to me and said "I feel bad."
The great jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson showed up and took a seat in the bleachers, cheering everyone on. Despite some health challenges he came all this way to be part of this fun, and we were all excited and moved to see him. At one point he looked at Ali, who was enjoying a beer and he yelled out "Is that one of those five-hour energy drinks?"
By mid-game we were well ahead, but things started to happen. Carlos, who had up to then been fielding marvelously all the line-drives, throwing them out successfully with Jay doing a great job at first base. But a ball took a tricky hop and Carlos, trying too hard to get to it, ended up with a banged up knee. Next, Ali lost sight of a pop fly that found it's way in front of the sun, and he ended up in the dirt. Jay, feeling particularly democratic, allowed someone with less ability take over at first and as a result of these incidents our lead was slowly slipping away.
During the 5th and 6th innings we had given back most of our lead. It was now important to hold on in this 7th and final inning. I was the pitcher and my arm was holding up, but the opposing team had a string of sluggers in the line-up and I had to be careful not to give them too many opportunities. I tried to keep my pitches a little high and inside, hoping to encourage pop-ups. The strategy worked a bit and although there were a couple solid base hits no runs scored. We were able to get three outs fairly quickly and won the game 11-9.