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.