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Josh Nelson: LA Stories: Live at Sam First


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: Josh Nelson: LA Stories: Live at Sam First
Josh Nelson's LA Stories: Live at Sam First was recorded in February 2022 at Sam First, which has quickly become the heartbeat of L.A.'s jazz community. With this album, Nelson continues a love letter to Los Angeles he began with his 2017 release, The Sky Remains, which was part of his Discovery Project multimedia series. In a city where history is too often forgotten, Nelson puts it center stage.

In "Tiburcio," Nelson conjures the life of the 19th century bandit, Tiburcio Vasquez, whose criminal exploits were so legendary that the Governor of California put a bounty on his head. To some, he was a heroic symbol of resistance who refused to submit to the American conquest of California. To others, he was a thief or murderer who got what he deserved when he was hanged. Nelson, however, tells the story from a different angle, from the vantage point of one of Tiburcio's lovers, who pleads with him to put his gun down and come home. The song features a suburb performance by vocalist Gaby Moreno, as well as delicate and haunting solos by Nelson and guitarist Larry Koonse, revealing a rapport between the two built over the past decade playing together on multiple projects.

In "Red Car Reminiscing," Nelson calls forth the bygone era of the streetcar in Los Angeles. It might be surprising to some, but Los Angeles used to have an extensive public transit system that carried millions of Angelenos throughout the city before being dismantled in the 1960s and replaced by buses and freeways. Nelson's song puts the listener on an imagined Red Car to feel the movement, bumps, twists, and turns of this erstwhile form of transportation. Drummer Dan Schnelle, a longtime friend and collaborator of Nelson's, brilliantly drives the song and evokes the clickety-clack of a railroad track.

"Lonely are the Brave" is a tribute to the legendary actors Kirk Douglas and Sidney Poitier. While listening to the song, you can feel the connection Nelson and saxophonist Walter Smith III, as they play off each other. The connection between the two actually goes back to the early 2000s, when they regular played together in the L.A. jazz scene at venues such as Cafe Metropol and Blue. Whale.

"Feed the Birds" is from the 1964 Disney film, Mary Poppins and reportedly Walt Disney's favorite song. Moreno, a native of Guatemala, beautifully sings the lyrics in Spanish and English and offers new insight into the Sherman Brothers classic. Moreno and Nelson initially met through their mutual friend, pianist/organist Larry Goldings, and have since gone on to record and perform together on tours in Guatemala and Australia.

While Los Angeles history is a recurring theme throughout the album, it is as much about Nelson's personal story as it is about Los Angeles history. In fact, the two are intertwined. Nelson was born in Long Beach, grew up in Simi Valley, went back to Long Beach for college, and spent years honing his craft in jazz clubs throughout Los Angeles. His Discovery Project came to life at Blue Whale, the late beloved jazz club in Little Tokyo. Nelson's grandparents came to L.A. in the 1940s and rode the Red Cars that eighty years later, he would write about. His father even worked for Disney as an Imagineer. As a result, this album is both historical and deeply personal. James Baldwin wrote that: "History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history." With this album, Nelson tells stories of Los Angeles, and himself.

Track Listing

Forward Momentum; Tiburcio; Old Friend; Lonely Are The Brave; Red Car Reminiscing; Feed The Birds; Lullaby for Ludvig; Travel Town; Spirit.


Walter Smith III
saxophone, tenor
Gaby Moreno
Larry Koonse
guitar, electric

Album information

Title: LA Stories: Live at Sam First | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Sam First Records

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