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: Next we take a look at a downtown Phoenix jazz club that recently celebrated its sceond anniversary. It's called The Nash, named after Phoenix native Lewis Nash, deemed the most valuable player in jazz by modern drummer magazine. [playing drums] Nash returned to perform for the second anniversary of the club that bears his name. Just prior to that appearance he spoke with us as well as Joel Goldenthal, the executive director of jazz in Arizona, the local nonprofit that owns and operates The Nash. Thanks for joining us.

Lewis Nash: Pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons: If there were a club named the Ted I would be impossible to live with. What's it like?

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

Ted Simons: I want to get to your background in a second. 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. It's always promoted live jazz music and education. 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. We got this idea a couple three years ago former board member of mine we went out to coffee said I would like to open a jazz club for the purpose of giving young musicians a place to perform and attracting a young jazz audience, so we put together the idea and had a lot of meetings with young people, found out what they would want. When we opened the doors they came.

Ted Simons: Are there educational classes and workshops going on?

Joel Goldenthal: We have this summer we had 12 programs going on. We have master classes and lessons throughout the year. The top jazz musicians and educators throughout the valley come teach at The Nash.

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

Lewis Nash: That's right.

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

Lewis Nash: Absolutely because 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. I was in high school. I went to east Phoenix high school. I joined what in those days was called the stage band. They didn't call it the jazz band in those days. That was my first taste of organized jazz performance situation.

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

Lewis Nash: Well, growing up I heard mostly gospel, rhythm and blues and blues. Those musics are -- have the same roots as jazz. They really come from the same tree. So when I heard jazz and started to become interested 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. So for me that was the draw that I could be a little bit more expressive.

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

Lewis Nash: That's one I don't know if I can answer but my siblings and my parents told me from a very young age they knew that's what I wanted to do. I would get my mother's pots and pans out of the kitchen, surround myself with them, get the knives and forks or get a tree branch and break it and put cardboard boxes around me.

Ted Simons: 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: After high school I went to Arizona State University broadcast. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Walter Cronkite. I saw the door open when I saw Max Robinson on ABC news, first African-American anchor I believe in the United States on network TV. I said, well, the door is open. I think I might want to do that, so that's what I intended to do but I had been playing music all those years. One day someone stopped me in the hall, said Lewis, you're not a music major, are you? I said no. You don't plan on going into music as a career? I said no. He said, I think you're making a mistake.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Mentors are out there.

Lewis Nash: Yes.

Ted Simons: You take that experience, you move it 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: I'm convinced there's a jazz gene. It's just a matter of exposure. It's all about exposure. The number one thing to do is expose people to the music. There are people who don't think they like jazz and they come into a jazz venue and hear jazz and love it. Basically want them to experience the music. You know, in this day and age where individual expression is the most important thing, this is the music that gives you that freedom. That's what I want people to see.

Ted Simons: We have classical artists on the show all the time. Sometimes folks are intimidated. They go to an opera, they don't know what they are listening for. People around them seem to be getting it. When you go to the Nash, and you see Lewis Nash, other nationally known performers, what do you listen for? What is jazz?

Joel Goldenthal: Well, you answer what jazz is.

Lewis Nash: Even Louis Armstrong didn't want to try to answer that. 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 of the acting techniques that go into making a great actor. We can experience it, the movie or the film, for its aesthetic value. I think it's a mistake to attempt to understand everything in the beginning.

Joel Goldenthal: It's a very visceral art form. It's been over intellectualized. You like what you hear and it feels good. That's the bottom line.

Ted Simons: When you see Lewis with the brushes and those things he's probably doing things that other drummers are going, oh, yeah, 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 amazed.

Ted Simons: We have had poets on the show. Don't try to understand it. Read the poem, speak it out loud, let it happen to you. If it happens further, great. If it doesn't, move on.

Lewis Nash: I agree.

Ted Simons: So that makes sense?

Lewis Nash: Yes, it does.

Ted Simons: You don't live in Phoenix any more.

Lewis Nash: I have been in New York since 1980, 1981.

Ted Simons: Do you get back much?

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

Ted Simons: You have your own band. Fantastic.

Lewis Nash: It's incredible. The dream. Some have come to the Nash, other events I have been involved in and of course my family is still here. Siblings and my parents. My father passed away earlier this year, but my mom is still here. I have a grandmother who is 101.

Ted Simons: As far as how the second anniversary of The Nash, what's going on? I assume this gentleman will be a major part of it.

Joel Goldenthal: Well, yes, he will be. We have four major events. Tomorrow at 3:00 there's a master class given by Barry Harris, a world renowned pianist, jazz master, and he's literally the father of the jazz master classes. His technique is emulated worldwide. On Saturday -- Friday night Corey Weed's quartet with Lewis Nash on drums. Corey is a wonderful saxophone player from Vancouver. Peter Washington on bass. That will be tomorrow night. Saturday an in-home private concert with Barry Harris Trio, Harris, Lewis Nash and Peter Washington. Sunday there are two concerts to which we're adding Jimmy Hayes. These two guys are legends.

Ted Simons: Busy crowd.

Joel Goldenthal: Busy crowd. I'm proud of Phoenix the turnout we're getting. Lots of -- we're going to be packed.

Ted Simons: Are there many Nashes around the country now? 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 attempting to do similar things in terms of educating young people and having venues where they can play and masters like Barry Harris can come do master classes and interact with them. There are others doing similar things.

Ted Simons: Congratulations on the club's success. Good luck. Congratulations on your success. You're a longhorn.

Lewis Nash: That's right. Exactly right.

Ted Simons: I remember that. Good to have you here.

Lewis Nash: Thank you very kindly.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. Thank you so much for joining us on this special music edition of "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. You have a great evening.

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

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