By Don Heckman
It was homecoming time at Vitello’s Friday night when the Ted Nash Quartet showed up for a rare Southland appearance. Homecoming because alto saxophonist Nash is a native Angeleno. And rare because – as a regular member of Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – Nash is an infrequent performer on L.A.’s jazz stages.
All of which made for a high spirited set at Vitello’ s. The audience was liberally sprinkled with Nash’s friends and acquaintances from the 1977 graduating class of Reseda High. And Nash seemed to be both musically and creatively energized by the dynamic responses from the crowd.
For both the Reseda Regents alumni in the audience, as well as those of us with very different backgrounds, the results were memorable.
The program was largely derived from Nash’s Grammy-nominated Portrait in Seven Shades and his latest recording, The Creep.
Although Portrait was conceived for a large jazz ensemble, Nash and his players – trumpeter Ron Horton, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Ulysses Owens – brought the selections to life in a quartet setting. Inspired by individual fine artists, Nash’s musical portraits effectively recalled the visual energies of works by Monet, Matisse and Chagall.
The selections from The Creep, in contrast to the compositional layering of the Portrait pieces, tended toward the declamatory writing and wide open improvising of the Ornette Coleman style. Which made for intriguing musical pacing. Fast-fingered and articulate, Nash was thoroughly on point with the harmonically oriented pieces. And when the free-style segments opened up, he flew through them with solos balancing wide open imagination with spontaneous structure-making.
Horton, a long time musical partner with Nash, responded with his own more laid-back approach, a perfect counter with his melodically oriented phrasing. Sikivie and Owens, working without a harmonic instrument in the rhythm section, nonetheless laid down a propulsive foundation for the front line horns.
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.
Hopefully, we’ll be seeing Ted Nash again and soon in the Southland. I’m betting that his Reseda High classmates will be standing in line for the next return engagement.
Drawing of Ted Nash done, in performance at Vitelli’s, by Lisa Flahive. To see more of Lisa’s work, click HERE.