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Ted Nash: The Goal Is Creativity

R.J. DeLuke By
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A striking thing about the music are the rhythms—mainstream at times and quite outside what might be expected at other times. "Ulysses is very creative," notes Nash. "After he listened to this music and rehearsed it, he started coming up with his own interpretation of grooves and things. That's the kind of creativity you want and you need in a big band. especially from the drummer, who is basically the conductor of the band. He's the engine behind the band."

As for its spirituality factor, Nash said he didn't set out for the music to slam people with that kind of impact. But "it is for me, just because being creative is a spiritual experience ... When I listen to these movements in relation to the chakras, I do feel they are closely aligned with what those chakras are about."

His recent works put Nash in the mix with the other fine large ensemble composers on the scene. In addition, he's played more big band music than many of them. "When you're younger, you emulate your heroes until you start to develop your own sound, your own voice," he says of his composing style. "I do think my biggest influences were, naturally, the ones that I heard the most. Being in the Mel Lewis band for 10 years: Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Bob Mintzer. They were probably the strongest influences on me. Of course, listening to Duke Ellington recordings. I feel now I don't necessarily sound like them, but I can still hear the influence from those great writers."

There will be a lot more from Nash for long form, large band works. "I love it. I used to be daunted by it. 'Wow. how do I deal with these instruments?' Now it's, 'Man, if I have all these instruments, I can create all these colors and textures.' You have to limit the ideas you have because it gives you such flexibility in terms of expressing your ideas. I feel like I'm just scratching the surface with the large ensemble, the big band, to express what I'm hearing."

The commission he's working on now is also with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. It's set to premier in January in New York. "I think I'm calling it 'The Presidential Suite.' It's based on political speeches," he says. "Some presidents, some other politicians, some civil rights people. Prime ministers. Not necessarily United States, but presidential in the sense that these speeches are presidential. It's a general idea. Most of them are about freedom, gaining freedom or maintaining freedom."

Nash's first composition of note was at age 15 for drummer Louie Bellson. the song "Tristemente" appeared on Raincheck (Concord, 1978). It has always been music for the multi-talented Nash, not surprising, as his father, trombonist Dick Nash, and uncle, Ted Nash, who played sax, were both known jazz musicians and staples on the L.A. studio scene.

Says Nash, "I didn't go to college, but I studied privately always. I studied classical piano from the age of seven. At 12, I studied the clarinet. Then I added the saxophone and the flute after that. I even studied jazz improvisation with a teacher named Charlie Shoemake. By the time I was out of high school, I was working professionally, so I changed my mind and instead of going to college, I moved to New York and hit the streets."

"I think my father and mother and some other people thought I was making a mistake, in terms of a career. Because my dad and uncle were really busy in the studios. It was at the tail end of the [studio] heyday. The late '70s. There was still a lot going on and they thought I'd fit right into the scene and become a very busy studio musician and make a lot of money," he says. "But I knew that, vicariously, my dad enjoyed the idea of continuing what he started to do when he as young, my uncle too. Playing jazz before they settled into commercial music. I think my dad, quietly, was happy I moved to New York even though I was young. I think my mother was a little worried about me."

While still a young L.A. phenom, Nash hooked up a gig with Lionel Hampton. "I was 16. That was swinging and I thought I was in heaven. I was playing my saxophone, playing bebop solos and swinging. Doing exactly what I wanted to do. Then I started working with Bellson, which was a stronger and more clear sound. Louie had a direction that he went, which was a real hard swing. So I learned a lot about that."

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