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Ted Nash: The Goal Is Creativity

R.J. DeLuke By
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Nash also landed work with Toshiko Akiyoshi's first-rate orchestra. "She was doing more colors and exotic influences. Then, there was the Don Ellis big band. This was all by the time I was 17. I did mostly big band work. I was a teenager and toured Europe for the first time with Don Ellis. That was a different set of challenges for me. The odd time signatures. The rock rhythms. He turned to me at one point, after I'd soloed, and said, 'Hey, man. Pound some dirt in there. You gotta find some dirt. He was teaching me a little bit about finding the blues, and not being so technical or theoretical. That was great. It was important to hear. A goal in all of us is to find that sense of blues in the playing."

"Then I moved to New York. I played with Gerry Mulligan's big band," he notes. "he also landed with a group called the National Jazz Ensemble, "which was Chuck Israel's group, sort of a precursor to Jazz at Lincoln Center. It was much earlier and didn't quite catch on. Big bands have been a big important part of my growing up."

While there were some struggles as a youngster in New York, things didn't go badly. He laid some groundwork before he left the west coast. He spoke to musicians he was working with about whom he might contact once he made his move. "They said, 'You gotta call so and so.' Bobby Rosengarden, Chuck Israels, Michael Brecker, people like that. I had a list of about 50 names. I got to New York and literally started calling everybody, whether they were famous or not. I said, 'Hey, I'm here. I'm the son of so and so. I've done this and that.' Some of them said, 'I don't know who you are. I've got plenty of people that I call to sub for me. Get in line.' But other people were like, 'Beautiful, man. Great to know you. What are you doing Saturday, because I have this gig and I need somebody.'"

"The reaction was so different, depending on everyone's own personal experience, maybe. Their background. How successful they were or how much they struggled to get where they are. It was a little scary at times," he says. But there were folks aware of the Nash name. "[Bandleader] Bobby Rosengarden was the drummer on "The Dick Cavett Show." He did a lot of studio work in New York. When he called me back, he said, 'Ted, I've been a big fan of yours for years. I loved your work with Les Brown and the [Henry] Mancini stuff.' I said, 'Wait, wait. Slow down. I'm his nephew.' He still called me and I ended up doing a lot of regular work with him. That wasn't name-building work. That was work that enabled me to pay my bills. Club dates. They were necessary. And they were jazz-based, so I still got to hone my jazz playing in these very specific circumstances."

The sound of Israel's band was more intense. It was a hard-core jazz group that was performing concerts. Nash was 19 and found himself in a saxophone section any band would be proud of: Gerry Niewood on lead alto, Bob Mintzer on tenor, Joe Temperley on baritone, and Sal Nistico on tenor, whom Nash calls "one of the greatest tenor players of all time."

"Tom Harrell was in the band. Jimmy Knepper. John Scofield did a lot of gigs. These are people I was meeting who were high profile. It was important to meet these people. And I was a little cocky," Nash admits which a chuckle. "I was a little sure of myself. Sometimes they would tell me, 'Hey, slow down.' I thought I knew everything, but then I realized that first year in New York that I knew very little, when it really came down to it. So I really hit the woodshed, as they say."

Bouncing from gig to gig, Nash was active, but "felt a little misdirected for a handful of years." He wasn't accomplishing as much as he thought he could, and wasn't focused on writing. He gradually put his shoulder to wheel and things began to move. One of the big things was the start of the Jazz Composers Collective, a group of young men that formed a musician-run, non-profit entity to present original works of composers who were trying to push boundaries.

"We started a concert series. We put on concerts five times a year. Five of us were in the core collective at the time, including Ben Allison, Frank Kimbrough, Ron Horton and Michael Blake. We did a concert every year where we gave ourselves the responsibility and opportunity to come up with a complete new concept for that concert. Instrumentation, the music. It was all new compositions; all about composing."

Two of the noted bands Nash led, Double Quartet and Odeon, came out of that organization. Double Quartet featured string quartet and a jazz quartet together. Odeon had the accordion and violin among the instrumentation. The group is no longer active, but last November at the Jazz Standard in New York City, it regrouped for a series of concerts making its 20th anniversary.

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