Ted Nash On Piano Jazz
For the Los Angeles-born Ted Nash, studying jazz was a bit like going into the family business; both his father, trombonist Dick Nash, and his uncle, a reedman also named Ted Nash, played during the big-band era before settling down as session players in the film and television industry. The young Ted Nash was immersed in the world of the professional musician, visiting studio sessions where horns were in demand for scoring The Mod Squad and Henry Mancini's The Pink Panther.
Nash studied clarinet before adding the saxophone to his arsenal, and in 1978 he left behind a budding career in California for the New York scene -- a rude awakening for even a young yet experienced player like Nash. Eventually, he settled in with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, an organization that completes the circle, with Nash working in a section that hearkens back to his family roots in the big bands. On this Piano Jazz session, Nash and guest host Christian McBride (bass), along with Frank Kimbrough at the keys, stretch out on a set of Henry Mancini tunes and a few Nash originals from his album Portrait in Seven Shades.
"I first got the idea after Wynton Marsalis asked me to write something for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's concert series," Nash says, referring to Portrait in Seven Shades. "I thought about it and I came up with the idea of visual artists. I've always loved going to museums, and really have done that a lot ever since I came to New York."
For its first tune, the trio performs "Matisse," a tune based on French artist Henri Matisse's iconic painting La Danse.
"The figures in the painting are just dancing and having fun," Nash says. "So the music is about swing, feeling good, and a nice groove." The tune has that sense of swing and playfulness, and in the opening bars pays tribute to another 20th-century master who knew how to fuse fun with complexity -- Thelonious Monk. And the three musicians get into the fun groove, each taking his own solo breaks over the bouncing rhythm.
The Music Of Mancini
The session shifts from the Frenchman Matisse to the All-American Mancini, with "Two for the Road," the theme from the eponymous 1967 film starring Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn. Nash plays a heartfelt solo on the tune, colored by his childhood memories of the original soundtrack recording sessions.
"My father and uncle were both mainstays in Mancini's band, from the 1950s on through the '80s," Nash says. "I think the very first music that I really got turned on by, that I really heard, was Mancini's. So the music has a real personal meaning for me."
Later in the session, the trio gets together on Mancini's theme from the film Breakfast at Tiffany's, a tune that showcases Nash's crystal-clear tenor. Nash has recorded an acclaimed tribute album, The Mancini Project, which also serves as a kind of de facto tribute to the music of his father and uncle.
"I think film composers deal with how to express the image on the screen; with the challenge of arranging a lush, orchestral score with different instruments that expresses a story," Nash says. "And that's what interested me with the Portrait in Seven Shades project. I was dealing with iconic imagery and a way to reinterpret and enrich the experience for the viewer."
Nash's next tune is dedicated to arguably the most iconic of the French Impressionists: Claude Monet. Nash picks up the soprano saxophone for an elegant melody that floats over pianist Frank Kimbrough's liquid chords, much like Monet's famed images of the water lilies at his home outside Paris. Monet's primary concern was the study of the effects of light at a specified time of day -- of freezing a moment in time on the canvas -- and Nash is not far off the mark in composing a melody that seems to hang in the air once the tune has ended.
"That's a beautiful piece of music," McBride says. "It's a simple melody, yet very modern and very hip."
The session closes with a final Mancini tune, "Lujon," originally composed for the '50s TV series Mr. Lucky and mined for many a hip film soundtrack and chill-out mix of the past half-century. Over a brooding rhythm, Nash's horn is pensive and his phrasing simmers slowly, heating up without boiling over.
McBride sums it up: "Gorgeous. I'll never forget that."
Originally recorded Feb. 16, 2010. Originally broadcast July 6, 2010.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.