You think being a film actor is a glamorous job? Think again. I have been shooting a film the past three days, and I am beat up. No, I mean literally! I have a scrape on the left side of my nose, a shiner on my right cheek, and my legs feel like I’ve run a marathon with no training. And on top of that I got slapped at least a dozen times. No - it isn’t an action film; not a karate movie. It’s a story about five jazz musicians based loosely on Monk, Trane, Miles, Mingus and Ornette. I am playing the Ornette character (use your imagination a little...). The writer/director, Douglas Chang, wrote this quirky, clever script based on the scene that took place in and around the Jazz Gallery in the 1960s. His father, who was the bartender there, got to know these jazz musicians - their music and their personal stories.
The script is broken up into five separate vignettes that intertwine slightly. The through line is the club and a few of the regulars, and of course the music! Although the part I am involved with is fourth in the script, we are shooting it first, and even though it seems to be going smoothly, it hasn’t been with out a few surprises. I’ll leave the details of the story (and reasons I have suffered a few minor injuries) for when you go see the film!
We continue shooting tomorrow, focusing on all the club scenes, and in particular playing and recording the music. I wrote three original compositions that are inspired by Ornette. My quartet, based on Ornette’s group form the early 60’s, features Marcus Printup on trumpet, Paul Sikivie on bass and Ulysses Owens on drums. I am assuming this shoot will be less injurious...
Other musicians playing lead roles in the film include Eric Reed and Stacy Dillard.
I had a nice gig with Peter Bernstein and Paul Sikivie the other night. It’s strange, but in all these years Peter and I have never really played together. I have wanted to for a long time, and it finally came together at 181 Cabrini, a local bar/restaurant/cafe where I often run into Pete, a neighbor on 181st street, getting coffee in the morning (better than Starbucks!). We have, in this pursuit of caffeine, and in support of a local business, run into each other many times, and in the process have gotten to know the owner, James, an offhand, but cool proprietor of this popular neighborhood spot.
Although 181 Cabrini did have a regular Monday live jazz night for a while, featuring some great young players - Roxy Coss, Kate Miller and Shawn Baltazor - it never really seemed like a jazz club, perhaps because of the way the band was crowded into a tight spot next to the bar, where it seemed many of the regulars regarded the music as competition to their storytelling.
It felt like a jazz club the other night! The gig with Peter and Paul was first in what we hope will be a series to raise money for different causes: Jam for Charity. This first one was to benefit PS 187, a local public school that has suffered many cutbacks, losing teachers and programs.
We set the trio up in the back room (not next to the bar!) and started playing tunes. It felt like magic at times, the way the we all felt so relaxed and allowed the music to find twists and turns - had us all smiling. The crowd was a mix of locals and those who traveled uptown. Great vibe.
For the second set suddenly the place was filled with musicians, some with their horns, like Eddie Barbash, James Zeller, and Bruce Harris who came up to make their “donation” to the cause. Others, without instruments, like Aaron Diehl and Jonathan Batiste and Tobias Gebb, donated their good vibes to the cause.
Looking forward to the next one!
My Uncle Ted passed away on Thursday, May 12th. Who was my Uncle Ted? Ted Nash (my namesake) was one of the greatest saxophonist to appear on the scene during the swing band era, a mainstay star soloist in the Les Brown band in the late 1940s.
He loved playing and learning and in his early years always searched out opportunities to be where the action was, where serious playing was happening. After a gig with the “Milkshake Band,” as the Les Brown Band was affectionately known, he would head to the clubs where greats like Bird, Lester Young, and Lionel Hampton were playing late sets, and sit in. During this period he became quite well known as a soloist, finishing 4th in the Downbeat Critics Poll on tenor sax (right behind Lester Young).
He was also known for his use of the altissimo register (something rarely dealt with at that time). In 1949 he wrote a book called Ted Nash's Studies in High Harmonics, a book that is still available today. In fact a lot of people think it’s my book (wish I could take credit for it!). Even with his success as a jazz player, he had set his sights on the blossoming Los Angeles studio scene, and settled there shortly after his stint with Les Brown. He had a remarkable career doing TV, film and records - he was on just about every Henry Mancini soundtrack made from the 50s to the 8Os. Frank Sinatra in an interview said Ted Nash was his favorite saxophone player. In fact, Sinatra would hire him to put together a quartet to play parties at his house, with guests like Humphrey Bogart and Judy Garland, who would always end up sitting in with the group.
By the 1980s, disillusioned with the change in the quality of the commercial music scene, my uncle retired quite young (in his 60s) and enjoyed his retirement playing tennis, spending time with his wife and walking on the beach in front of his beautiful house in Carmel, California.
Five years ago, in the midst of writing a book, a memoir of his musical journey, he suffered a stroke which seriously curtailed his ability to finish the last chapters. I flew out from New York several times to work with him on the book, now finished. It is an interesting, often humorous account of a life rich with musical and personal experiences. All we need is a publisher...
Although his settling into the studios largely removed him from the public eye, I always run into people asking about him, expressing how much he has inspired them. On my recent release, “The Mancini Project,” I pay homage to Uncle Ted (and my father Dick Nash) in many ways, but in particular by playing his interpretation of the bridge on Dreamsville using the same augmentation, expression and phrasing. Of course, I didn’t sound like him - that would be impossible - but it sure felt good trying!
Here is a photo of my Uncle and me taken about 9 years ago. The tenor we are holding is the Selmer "Jimmy Dorsey" model he played for many years, and I have played for about 20 years now.
I just finished two long days in the studio with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, recording a couple of the projects we all felt so strongly about at the time we performed them live. The first one is Nursery Rhyme Swing, which includes such perennial favorites as Itsy Bitsy Spider, It’s Not Easy Being Green (made famous by the amphibian crooner Kermit the Frog), Pop Goes the Weasel, and Old MacDonald Had a Farm. I know - it sounds corny. But when you hear the arrangements (all done by cats in the band), corny won’t even be an option on the list of possible adjectives to describe it.
The next project, one that is probably more typical of a big band recording project, but no less original in it’s outcome, is the Music of Monk, featuring Marcus “J-Master” Roberts. Some pretty challenging stuff, particularly Vincent Gardner’s atmospheric intro on Light Blue, and the angular bebop line on Skippy (which I spread out over four octaves - piccolo, flute, tenor, and bass clarinet), and Wynton’s deceptably difficult, but hauntingly beautiful arrangement of Ugly Beauty featuring the saxophone section.
I’ve never played with a band that had such a collection of soloists AND writers. I see the direction of this band continually expanding, absorbing the depth of the great history of jazz, but putting it in a context that is quite now.