Arriving in Los Angeles is always about returning home for me. I grew up there. Now matter how many years pass, walking into my childhood house (which would be my quartet’s home for the next two days) immediately recalls the hours spent in my bedroom memorizing Bird and Sonny Rollins solos, playing along with Miles Davis’ “My Funny Valentine” or Cedar Walton’s “Eastern Rebellion.” Coming of age in a sea of glorious sounds and expressions that helped form the base of who I am today. I wrote my first compositions on a Wurlitzer electric piano in the corner of my room.
Our first evening in L.A. was spent celebrating the release of “The Creep” with an intimate gathering of friends at the beautiful (”ta die for...”) home of my friend (and producer) Scott Jacobson. Ulysses actually had a gig with Christian McBride in Seattle that evening and had flown out early in the morning. Ron, still battling a cold he had brought on the road with him, opted to lay low this evening. So it was just Paul and I who headed out to Burbank, stopping first at bassist Jim Hughart’s house to pick up an instrument he so graciously allowed Paul to use for our gig at Vitello’s the next day. Paul and Jim talked shop while I pretended to be interested - gut vs. steel, heights, gauges. But I’m sure it’s probably nowhere as bad as if a bass player got caught in conversation between two reed players...
Next stop was Trader Joe’s to grab a case of wine. The very cute checkout girl commented on the amount of bottles I was pulling from my cart - “having a party tonight” she said with a flirtatious aloofness. “Well, yes. It’s my CD RELEASE party, at my PRODUCER'S house,” I responded, trying to sound as important as possible. “Oh, really? What kind of music?” “Jazz.” “Next customer at counter 4.”
Scott’s home, set in the hills, has a sweeping view not only of Burbank, but of Downtown Los Angeles, and beyond. The sun was just setting as the party began, and the view was as warm and inviting as the vibe created by the guests and host. Not knowing how many people were going to show up, Scott bought probably twice as much food than was consumed, and so as not to go to waste, the quartet dragged around several shopping bags of turkey and swiss, roast beef and tuna salad sandwiches for the following two or three days until Paul’s stomach started talking to him. And it wasn’t saying anything nice! We then knew it was time to dump the remaining leftovers, which we did in the gas station garbage at our next fill-up.
Our gig the next day at Vitello's was about as strong an indication that this was truly a homecoming. In addition to the presence of family (father DIck and sister Nikki), about 20 friends from high school were front and center, cheering us on. (How come I wasn’t this popular in high school? Oh, yeah: I was a band geek.) In addition, some of the greatest musicians in Los Angeles were there, some I have known over the years (like Gene Cipriano and Bob Sheppard), and others I met for the first time that night (Like Jerry Vivino). My best friend in grammar school, Arye Gross, was there. I don’t think I had seen him since sixth grade, except for on the big screen: he played Rob Lowe’s buddy in “Soul Man,” and was on the Ellen show for a few years. And my best friend all through junior high school, Mike Lane, was in attendance with his wife Ellen, a wonderful painter. There were so many others - impossible to mention everyone here.- that helped to make the evening special.
Since my quartet had such success with the addition of movements from “Portrait in Seven Shades” to our repertoire, our show (an hour and forty-five minutes straight through) was a mix of these and, of course, selections from “The Creep.” The high point, however came when my father, the legendary Dick Nash, jumped up on the bandstand with his trombone, swinging on some blues in B flat. He played with such sweetness of sound, fluidity of ideas, and control of time; I think he plays better now than he did 40 years ago. At one point, when he snapped out a particularly inspired passage, I glanced over at Ulysses, who was shaking his head, as if saying “man, I know you said he was good, but I had no idea he was THIS good.”
Don Heckman, the great jazz writer and critic, who for many years wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times, was hiding out somewhere. Critics have a way of sliding in under the radar when they expect to write something. This is what Don had this to say in his review in The International Review of Music:
One of the most engaging moments of the night, however, took place when the quartet was joined, spontaneously, on stage by Nash’s father, Dick Nash, a veteran, first-call trombonist whose career in big bands and the L.A. Studios dates back to the ’40s. Playing first a blues and then – after audience applause drew Dick Nash back to the stage – a classic take on “Body and Soul,” the father and son partnership added a tender musical climax to an evening of first rate music.”
The next morning, the band rolled out of bed sometime before 8:00 AM and jumped into the rented mini-van that would be our home for the next week, ultimately taking us all the way up to Canada. Next stop: Grass Valley, CA. Seven hours of some of the most boring scenery, straight up I-5 through Central California. About two hours into the ride you get to turn the wheel to the right a little. The high points of the trip are the California Aqueduct River (one of only two man-made things you can see from space), and a stretch of perhaps two or three miles of the worst smelling air you can imagine, as you approach and pass the largest cow farm you have every seen.
The contrast of pulling into Grass Valley, the location of the Gold Rush of the 1840s, is a sight for sore eyes. Set in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, this quaint mining town could easily be used today in a Western movie. If they still made Westerns, that is... There is something incongruently charming about this town, a cross between simple conservative attitudes, hippie values, and a strong desire to be artistic and cultural. It also has the unfortunate distinction of being the “whitest” county in California (per capita) and when my quartet pulled into to town, the temporary population of “people of color” increased by something like 25%.
We arrived at the hotel with just enough time to check in, set down our bags and head over to the sound check. The Center for the Arts is run by Julie Baker, an entrepreneur, and one of those with the strong desire to make Grass Valley artistic and cultural. Last year she managed to bring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra here, for what turned out to be one of the best concerts on our month-long tour.
I got to know Julie, her husband Richard, and this unusual town, because my daughters, Lisa and Emily moved here when they were young kids. Visitation meant flying 3,000 miles across the country, which I managed to do on average about eight times a year. Naturally, over the years, I become involved with the community, even renting a small studio apartment for a year at one point.
Arriving at the Center, I was happy to see my friend, bassist Bill Douglas, who’s quartet (playing the music of Thelonious Monk) was the “opening act.” Bill, who happens to be a world-class jazz bass player, performing regularly with greats such as Marian McPartland, Mose Allison and Paula West, is a Grass Valley local.
The concert that night went well. The audience was educated and appreciative. Sometimes when you come to a small town “in the middle of nowhere,” the audience can be happy just to have you there. But I think it was more than that. There was a special vibe. Good energy. Bill’s band was inventive and swinging, and I felt my quartet uncovered a few new twists and turns in the music. It was, after all, just our third concert, with many more to go - many more musical adventures in front of us.
Our next adventure, however, is a ten hour ride to Portland.