Take Five With Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson By

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Meet Josh Nelson:
Josh Nelson, born and raised in Southern California, maintains an active and creative schedule as a jazz pianist, composer, teacher, and recording artist. At 33 years old, he has already performed with some of the most respected names in jazz, including Natalie Cole, Anthony Wilson, Robert Hurst, Jeff Hamilton, Kathy Salem, Albert "Tootie" Heath, Seamus Blake, Matt Wilson, Sara Gazarek, Ernie Watts, Jack Sheldon, Tom Scott, Peter Erskine, Abe Laboriel, and Alex Acuña, to name a few.

Josh has recorded for countless albums, films, and TV shows, but also makes time for his own projects: First Stories (1998), Anticipation (2004) and Let it Go (Native Language Music, 2007) all garnered international critical claim. Josh's fourth album, I Hear a Rhapsody (2009), featured Josh's musings on new original music, standard interpretations, and reinventions of pop tunes. His upcoming record, Discoveries, breaks all the rules, and we hear a fresh and new sound in his writing for a brass and wind ensemble.

Compositions and performances of his have appeared on various prime-time and cable shows and films, including Jack and Bobby, The Division, Lucky, and First Daughter. He has also worked with film composer Michael Kamen, and actors Eric Idle, Clint Eastwood, and Jon Lovitz. Josh has earned many awards, scholarships, and accolades over the years, some of which include the Louis Armstrong Award and the John Philip Sousa Award. He was also one of only twelve semi-finalists in the prestigious 2006 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition.

Josh is also musical director for vocal talent Sara Gazarek, for whom he penned the title track of her debut record, Yours. That record reached No. 10 on the Billboard Jazz Charts. Sara's second studio album, Return to You (2006), also featured Josh's singer/songwriter skills.

Currently, Josh continues his touring with legendary vocalist Natalie Cole. He is also always working on a new CD project, and is just happy to be alive and playing with wonderful musicians!

Piano, keyboards, trumpet.

Teachers and/or influences?
Teachers: Cecilia Coleman, John Clayton, John Prince, Bill Cunliffe, Alan Pasqua, Peter Erskine.

Influences: Herbie Hancock, Alan Ferber, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Kirkland, Michel Petrucciani, Woody Shaw, Dmitri Shostakovich, Charles Ives, Ben Wendel, Nick Drake, The Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
My grandfather showed me Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, and also introduced me to Oscar Peterson and André Previn.

Your sound and approach to music:
I have a softer touch than a lot of other young-ish pianists. I prefer to caress the piano, never pound it.

Your teaching approach:
I love teaching, and seeing a student discover their own answers. I try to present the information in the most simple and straightforward light possible. I never like to hurry students through a concept as we work on it. Listening is key!

Your dream band:
Bass: Larry Grenadier;
Drums: Jeff Ballard;
Trumpet: Tim Hagans;
Tenor Sax: Seamus Blake.

Favorite venue:
In Los Angeles: Blue Whale; in the world: Blue Note, Tokyo.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Discoveries (the latest one). I really feel that I got my vision across on this one, sonically, compositionally, and artistically. Fun to make, easy to work with the band.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Wynton Marsalis, Standard Time Vol. 1.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I like my music to have a sense of accessibility to it. I'd like to think that people who don't normally listen to jazz might be turned on to my music.

Did you know...
I love to hike all the time, and I also am an aspiring screenwriter.

CDs you are listening to now:
Danger Mouse, Rome;

Betty Carter, With the Audience;

Orrin Evans, Freedom;

Leonard Bernstein, Charles Ives 'Holidays';

Larry Goldings, Moonbird.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Young musicians need to be willing to do lots of different types of gigs. They need to drop the "holier than thou" attitude and just make some music. They also need to know their tunes! Knowledge of standards is essential when you're building your own voice. We also need some more business-minded people to open some good jazz venues, especially in the US, where they are going away faster than they are coming in.

What is in the near future?
Touring to promote the new album Discoveries; a two-week Natalie Cole tour to Japan, starting a new film score for a short indie film, and working on vocalist Sara Gazarek's new record.

By Day:
Practicing, writing, arranging, and teaching! All the way, baby!

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
Writer, or maybe a naturalist (like John Muir).

Photo Credit
Courtesy of Josh Nelson

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