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Ted Nash: The Goal Is Creativity

R.J. DeLuke By

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I have reached a place where I realize the most important thing for me to do is just create —Ted Nash
A New York City morning often starts early, sometimes 6 a.m., for this musician who is trying to elongate the hours available in a day. There's a lot to get to. Practicing the saxophone or flute. Sitting down to go through the elusive and demanding task of writing music worthy of the plateau, which these days seems to be a lot about commissioned work.

Ted Nash is in demand.

On the heels of his striking, and Grammy nominated, work for the renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Portrait in Seven Shades (The Orchard, 2010)—the orchestra's first recording of original music by a member other than Wynton Marsalis—he wrote and produced another long-form series of movements devoted to a central theme. Chakra (Plastic Sax Records) was released in September and is sure to draw acclaim similar to his work for JLCO.

He's already working on yet another commission for a large ensemble that will draw its inspirations from important speeches in history that were dedicated to peoples of the world gaining or maintaining freedom. When he's not calling on his writing muse, or flexing his distinguished saxophone chops on a gig, he is working on writing a screenplay. This is all part of the life of an artist who is flourishing. More and more people are taking notice.

Nash never went to college. He played with Lionel Hampton while in high school, toured Europe with Don Ellis as a teenager, moved to the Big Apple at 18 to find himself in the big bands of Gerry Mulligan, Chuck Israels Toshiko Akiyoshi and Mel Lewis. There were times of uncertainty, but as Nash, now 52, emerges as one of the remarkable and identifiable voices in jazz, his focus is singular.

"I have reached a place where I realize the most important thing for me to do is just create," says Nash. "It's not about making money. It's not about being famous. It's not about any of that. It's about: I need to create. I need to allow myself to be as creative as possible. Whether the stuff is supported and heard by people, or whether it's for me. Whatever. Embracing that creativity and allowing myself the time and energy to do that" is fundamental.

Nash, a fiend on sax, has been writing for large ensembles for many years and lately finds his pen quite active the JLCO, which has has been a member of for 15 years. His latest burst isn't related, however. It's a work based on the belief in chakra healing, and the seven movements are related to the seven chakras believed to control and direct a person's energy, guiding them—and sometimes blocking them—internally and externally.

"I'm very excited about it. It's one of my strongest creative efforts to date," he says. He had specific musicians in mind that he felt would bring it to life.

"There are some young musicians I wanted to feature, in particular Alphonso Horne [trumpet]. Christopher Ziemba, the young pianist at Julliard and a student of [pianist] Frank Kimbrough, whom I've worked with for years. Frank highly recommended him. Ulysses Owens, Jr. played drums on my last record, The Creep, (Plastic Sax Records, 2012). He's really talented and very colorful," Nash says. "I had certain people in mind that I wanted to feature who were younger and up and coming, playing great. And there's some veterans I've always admired and wanted record with, like Tim Hagans. Anat Cohen I've worked with, but I wanted to invite into my own creative circle. And a bunch of great musicians who crossed over into the studio work and commercial work. They have this ability to play, to read music very well and assimilate the music very quickly. Play all the woodwind doubles at a very high level. The meat of the band is made up of musicians like that. Very experienced. I knew I didn't have a lot of time to rehearse, so I really needed to get cats who could jump in there and understand this music quickly."

How the recording came about in the first place goes back a few years and in itself has a kind of mystic feel.

Nash was involved in a recording and encountered an assistant producer he had never met before. The man, a person of means, was effusive in his praise for Nash's body of work and approached him about writing music for a large ensemble. He was willing to put up the money. Nash went to his house and found him "in a sea of prescription bottles. He told me a story. He said, 'I was on death's door in the hospital. The doctors had pretty much given up on me.' But somebody who was working in the hospital came up to him quietly and said, 'This is against hospital regulations, but there's a healer coming from China. He's supposed to be amazing.'"

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