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Lewis Nash: First-call Technician and Teacher Too

By Published: March 13, 2004
AAJ: There a lot of schools now, it seems. Is there something different about the New England Conservatory?

LN: What I noticed about the New England Conservatory program is that they have instructors there with a very wide variance of approaches to the music, in their own playing or in their own compositional approach. A situation like that would give students quite a variety of approaches to choose from. They may be more inclined toward one or the other, but they'd have an opportunity to check out some different ideas than they might gravitate toward on their own.

AAJ: How important do you think it is for jazz to be in a setting like this? Does it give it a certain prestige?

LN: I don't know if the prestige part is the thing that I think was the most beneficial thing for the students. Looking at the conservatory environment, the positive things it gives are: An opportunity to interact with other students with similar interests who may be from different backgrounds, maybe from a different country or different ethnicity, different customs, things like that. But jazz is the common denominator, so they come together that way.

Then, it provides them with opportunities to experiment with their own ideas, based upon the things they learned from the instructor. And it gives them an opportunity to hear these things on a daily basis, or to try new things with players, rather than just working them out in their heads or playing them on the piano or keyboard or something like that. They can actually hear these things.

And I guess another aspect of the conservatory environment is that it allows a free exchange of ideas between the students and they can kind of see where they stand compared to the others, in terms of what ideas they have, and they can kind of interact that way. So, there's a lot of positive aspects to it.

I know we often hear of what might be considered the non-positive. People might tend to think that it could become a sterile environment with something like that, but there's ways around that. And one of the ways is to bring in people who do this for a living, they way they brought me in there. There's a series of people coming in, so it kind of keeps the practical side to this, to have students be able to interact with people who are actually doing this for a livelihood.

AAJ: In general, what kind of approach do you take with the students?

LN: I guess in a general sense, I stress a grasp of the fundamentals of music and then how those same fundamentals — that are fundamental to all music — impact the jazz environment or the approach to playing jazz. In other words, do you have the necessary facility on your instrument to say what you want to say? And do you have enough of an understanding of how music works to be able to manipulate these sounds and vibrations — that's basically what the music is — do you have the ability to manipulate these things in a creative way and tell a story and affect people? That's basically where I'm coming from when I deal with students.

AAJ: When you teach, are you just teaching percussionists?

LN: During that residency, I dealt with several different student combos. Of course, I had some time where I did focus in on the drummers and percussionists in particular, but that was designed for me to interact with student combos. That being the case, I was dealing with bass players, piano players, horn players. I enjoy that, because when I work that's what I'm doing. I'm interacting with all the different instrumentalists and learning about their instruments in a performance situation by playing with them.

So when I go into the schools, I'm able to relate what I've gotten from the great pianists or the great horn players and great bass players to these people who may not have had a chance to meet or interact with these great players.

AAJ: Overall, what did you get out of it?

LN: Every time someone like myself, who plays music for a living and enjoys the interaction with students and young people, goes into that situation we become better at expressing the things that we feel about music. We become more comfortable with listening to their questions and having appropriate answers or giving them suggestions or ideas that they might want to try. Things like that.

So the more you do it, the more comfortable you become, and you become more able to express it. From seeing the various levels of the student musicians throughout the country, and the various schools and everything, I begin to see a correlation between what's happening at the university level in general, and then I begin to understand that there are certain things that apply across the board to this level of student. So there are many things I can share again and again, and they won't seem repetitive. I'm in a different environment, but they apply just as well to the students in one place as they do in another.

I got from that particular residency that students are very hungry to know what it’s like in the real world, so to speak, in terms of touring. What do bandleaders want? What kind of things do they say to you in rehearsal? What is it like in the recording studio? They want to know those things.

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