Arizona ArtBeat: Jazz in Arizona/The Nash Center

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Established in 1977, Jazz in Arizona is a non-profit organization that offers jazz education and numerous performances. It also owns “The Nash,” a jazz club in Phoenix that was named after drummer Lewis Nash, a Phoenix native who was named the “most valuable player” in jazz by Modern Drummer Magazine. Nash will be back in town to perform for the second anniversary of The Nash and will talk about the club along with Joel Goldenthal, the executive director of Jazz in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" looks at a downtown Phoenix jazz club celebrating its second anniversary. The club is called the Nash and it's named after Phoenix native Lewis Nash deemed most valuable player in jazz by modern drummer magazine. Nash is back in town to perform for the second anniversary of the club that bears his name. Joining us now is Lewis Nash. And also with us is Joel Goldenthal, executive director of jazz in Arizona, a local nonprofit that owns and operates the Nash. Good to have you both here. I gotta tell you, if there were a club named the Ted I would be impossible to live with. What's it like to have a club named after you.

Lewis Nash: It's a great honor. I feel so elated I guess would be the word, tickled. And of course honored to be deemed the person to name this fantastic venue after. And being someone who was born and raised here in Phoenix, it's doubly special honor.

Ted Simons: I want to get to your background in a second, but as far as jazz in Arizona, as far as the Nash is concerned, talk to us about how this got started.

Joel Goldenthal: Jazz in Arizona has been around for 37 years, and it's always promoted live jazz music and education. But as with most jazz enterprises in the country, we were kind of sliding and not attracting young people, which is really what it's all about, the next generation of jazz musicians. So we got this idea a couple years, three years ago a former board member of mine and we went out to coffee and he said I'd like to open a jazz club in downtown Phoenix for the purpose of giving young musician a place to perform and attracting a young jazz audience. So we put the idea together and had a lot of meetings with young people and found out what they would want, and when we opened the doors they came.

Ted Simons: And so are there educational classes, workshops?

Joel Goldenthal: Yeah, we have -- This summer we had 12 programs going on, and we have master classes, and lessons throughout the year. And the top jazz musicians and educators throughout the valley come and teach at the Nash.

Ted Simons: What got you started? Phoenix native, you actually are a Phoenix native.

Lewis Nash: That's right.

Ted Simons: What got you started in jazz, and can you use some of that experience in helping the folks get that kind of background at the Nash?

Lewis Nash: Absolutely. I can reflect back to when I was young and the things that interested me, and what got me into the door so to speak. And I was in high school, I went to east high school, east Phoenix high school, and I joined what -- In those days was called the stage band. They didn't call it the jazz band. But that was my first taste of any kind of organized jazz performance situation.

Ted Simons: Before that, was it something about jazz, some kids go to rock music, some kids go to classical, you can go all sorts of different directions. Why jazz for you?

Lewis Nash: Growing up I heard mostly gospel, rhythm and blues and blues. And those musics are -- Have the same roots as jazz. I mean, they really come from the same tree. And so when I heard jazz and started to become interested in it, what really attracted me was the fact you could be more creative and express yourself in a different way than you could in the other forms. And so that for me was the draw that I could be a bit more expressive.

Ted Simons: As far as drums are concerned, could you have played sax, could you have played bass, why drums?

Lewis Nash: That's one I don't know if I can answer. My siblings and parents always told me from a young age they knew that's what I wanted to do because I'd get my mother's pots and pans in the kitchen and surround myself with them on the floor and get the knives and forks or if I was outside I'd get a tree branch and break it and put cardboard boxes around me. So they knew.

Ted Simons: They knew, but when did you --

Lewis Nash: When did I know?

Ted Simons: This was more than just a hobby, an interest. When did you know, I'm pretty good at this?

Lewis Nash: The funny thing is, I went -- After high school I went to Arizona state university as a broadcast journalism major, and I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Walter Cronkite, and my -- I saw the door open when I saw Max Robinson on ABC news back in those days, the first African-American anchor. I believe on network TV. And I thought, the door is open. So that's what I went to school intending to do, but I've been playing music all those years, and one day someone stopped me and said, you're not a music major, are you? And I said no and he said you don't plan on going into music as a career, and I said no. And he said I think you're making a mistake.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Isn't that something. Mentors are out there. And you take that experience, and you move it now over to the Nash. When young people are showing up there, for the classes, for the instruction, just to see a show, what do you want them to experience? What do you want them to see and feel?

Joel Goldenthal: Well, I'm convinced there's a jazz gene, and it's just a matter of exposure. It's all about exposure. So the number one thing to do is expose people to the music. Are people who don't think they like jazz and they come into a jazz venue and hear jazz and they love it. So basically want them to experience the music, and you know, in this day and age where individual expression is the most important thing, this is the music that gives you that freedom. So that's what we want people to see.

Ted Simons: We have classical artists on the show all the time, and I try to they'll them, sometimes folks are intimidated, they don't know what they're listening for. When you go to a jazz club, when you go to the Nash, and you see Lewis Nash or other nationally known performers, what is jazz?

Joel Goldenthal: Well, you answer what jazz is.

Lewis Nash: Even Louis Armstrong didn't want to try to answer that. So I won't attempt to, but I will say this -- When you're in an environment where you don't -- You feel you don't really understand what's going on, sometimes the best thing to do is just experience it in the most visceral way, and just feel it and don't attempt to try to understand what's going on. When we watch a movie, we don't know all the techniques, acting techniques that go into making a great actor but we can experience the movie or the film for its aesthetic value. So I think it's a mistake to attempt to understand everything in the beginning.

Joel Goldenthal: It's a very visceral art form. People think they have to have an intellectual understanding, and that's not the case. You like what you hear, and it feels good. And that's the bottom line.

Ted Simons: When you see Lewis up there with the bushes and doing all these things, he's probably doing things other drummers are going oh, yeah, I understand, that's fantastic. I don't need to know that. All I need to see is, the movement, the pattern, the rhythm, the timing.

Joel Goldenthal: All you need to be is to be amazed.

Ted Simons: Because we've had poets on the show and they say don't try to understand it. Read the poem out loud, let it happen to you, and if it happens further, great, if it doesn't, move on.

Lewis Nash: I agree. I agree.

Ted Simons: That makes sense then?

Lewis Nash: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: OK. So talk -- You don't live in Phoenix anymore?

Lewis Nash: I've been in New York since '81.

Ted Simons: You get back much?

Lewis Nash: As much as I can. I love the desert.

Ted Simons: As far as living -- It must be fantastic -- You have your own band?

Lewis Nash: Yes, I do.

Ted Simons: It must be fantastic.

Lewis Nash: It's incredible. I can't even tell you. The dream come true that I didn't even know I was dreaming.

Ted Simons: And do you keep in touch with high school kids, any --

Lewis Nash: Yes. Many of my high school classmates have come, some of have come to the Nash, some have been at other events I've been involved with here and of course my family is still here. Siblings and my parents, my father just passed away earlier this year, my mom is here, I have a grandmother who is 101, so I have lots of reasons to come back.

Ted Simons: They must be proud.

Lewis Nash: Of course.

Ted Simons: I bet they are. As far as the second anniversary of the Nash, what's going to go -- I'm assuming this gentleman will be a major part of it.

Joel Goldenthal: Yes, he will be. We have four major events going on. Tomorrow at 3:00 there's a master class given by Barry Harris, who is a world renowned pianist, and a jazz master, and he's literally the father of jazz master classes. His technique is emulated worldwide. Then on Saturday there's - I'm sorry, Friday night Corey Weeds quartet with Lewis Nash on drums, Corey is a wonderful saxophone player from Vancouver, Peter Washington on bass. So that will be at the Nash tomorrow night. Saturday is an in-home concert, private concert with Barry Harris trio. And Sunday two concerts, 6:00 and 8:00 to which we're adding Jimmy Heath. These two guys are legends.

Ted Simons: That's a busy crowd.

Joel Goldenthal: It's a busy crowd, and I'm proud of Phoenix the turnout we're getting. Lots of -- We're going to be packed.

Ted Simons: And real quickly, are there many Nashes around the country right now? Or is this almost unique?

Lewis Nash: Well, I would venture to say there's nothing exactly like this. But there are folks around the country who are tempting to do similar things in terms of educating young people and having venues where they can play and masters like Jimmy Heath and Barry Harris can come and do master classes and interact. So there are others who are doing similar things.

Ted Simons: Congratulations on the club's success, and good luck and congratulations on your success. You're a longhorn.

Lewis Nash: That's right.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Lewis Nash: Thank you very kindly.

Lewis Nash:Drummer; Joel Goldenthal:Executive Director, Jazz in Arizona;

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