Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Nash, Lewis (Douglas)

Drummer Lewis Nash rose to prominence alongside Betty Carter and Branford Marsalis in the 1980s. While he has since become an accomplished leader, Nash's rare combination of taste and technical mastery make him a superb collaborator, as can be heard in his work with pianists Renee Rosnes and Tommy Flanagan, vocalist Diana Krall, saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Clark Terry, and bassist Ron Carter.

Lewis Douglas Nash was born on December 30, 1958 in Phoenix, Arizona. At the age of ten, Nash began to play the drums after hearing drummer Grady Tate perform on trumpeter Quincy Jones’ 1969 album Walking in Space. In high school, Lewis was further encouraged to pursue jazz by his high school band teacher. By the age of eighteen, he was performing professionally with local jazz ensembles.

Upon graduating from high school, Nash enrolled at Arizona State University, where he studied business. Though not a music major, Lewis performed with the university’s jazz bands and locally with pianists Charles Lewis and Keith Greco. He also performed with several musicians that were traveling through town including pianist Red Garland, and saxophonists Sonny Stitt, Art Pepper and Lee Konitz.

Beginning in 1979, Nash began to perform in a duo with saxophonist and college friend Allan Chase. In 1981, Lewis moved to New York City to perform with singer Betty Carter’s group. With Carter, he received the opportunity to perform with other up-and-coming musicians, including tenor saxophonist Don Braden and pianists Benny Green and Stephen Scott.

With Carter, Nash toured throughout the United States and Europel. He recorded with Carter on the 1982 album Whatever Happened to Love?, a live album that was recorded at the Bottom Line club in New York City.

After his move to New York City, Nash continued his musical education by studying privately with drummer Freddie Waits. Nash decided to leave the Betty Carter group in 1984, though he reunited with her the following year at the Berlin Jazzbuhne Festival and subsequently performed with her off and on until the early 1990s.

1984 also saw Nash joining Ron Carter's quartet, quintet and nonet. In the fall of 1986, Lewis left Carter upon receiving an invitation to perform with saxophonist Branford Marsalis. The following year, he appeared with pianist Kenny Kirkland and bassist Delbert Felix on Marsalis’ album Random Abstract.

In 1988, Nash toured both domestically and internationally with trombonist J.J. Johnson.The same year, Lewis replaced Dannie Richmond in the quartet of tenor saxophonist George Adams and pianist Don Pullen. 1988 also saw Lewis performing on Betty Carter’s album Look What I Got, which reached the number one position on Billboard Magazine’s Top Jazz Albums chart.

In 1999, Nash went on separate tours with tenor saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Stan Getz, vibraphonist Milt Jackson and trumpeter Art Farmer.

The same year, Lewis recorded the album Rhythm Is My Business, his debut album as a leader. Released on the Evidence label, Lewis employed the talents of bassists Ron Carter and Peter Washington, pianist Mulgrew Miller, vocalist Teresa Nash and vibraphonist Steve Nelson.

In 1990, Nash became a member of pianist Tommy Flanagan’s ensemble. The same year, Lewis performed on Flanagan’s album Beyond the Blue Bird alongside guitarist Kenny Burrell and bassist George Mraz. 1990 also saw Lewis performing on records for Clark Terry, and pianists Kenny Barron and Toshiko Akiyoshi. The following year, he appeared on the debut albums of alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, For the First Time, and Stephen Scott's Something to Consider.

By 1992, Nash began to co-lead a septet with pianist Mike LeDonne. The same year, Lewis appeared on albums by Mulgrew Miller, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. The following year, he recorded and toured in saxophonist Joe Lovano’s quartet in support of Lovano’s album Tenor Legacy. In 1994, Nash appeared on Lovano’s album Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard. The album was met with critical acclaim and was named Album of the Year by the readers of Down Beat Magazine.

In the following year, Nash continued his prolific career as a sideman with the recording of Come Play With Me with alto saxophonist Charles McPherson. The same year, Lewis performed on singer Diana Krall’s second album Only Trust Your Heart. By 1997, he was touring and recording under the leadership of tenor saxophonist Benny Golson as a member of the Art Blakey legacy band, The Jazz Messengers.

On March 16, 1997, Nash recorded on Tommy Flanagan’s album Sunset and the Mockingbird: The Birthday Concert. Recorded along with Peter Washington, the album was recorded live at the Village Vanguard on the night of Flanagan’s sixty-seventh birthday. The ensemble’s talents can be best encapsulated on the album’s opening number “Bird Song.”

With a brief introduction from Flanagan, Nash enters the arrangement by keeping the beat on the hi-hat, slowly increasing its dynamic to add excitement. During most of the song, Lewis showcases his brilliant skill as an accompanist by playing similar rhythms with Tommy to augment the pianist’s performance. Tommy and Lewis trade four bar solos where Lewis implements everything from military style drums rolls to bombastic fills that tastefully satisfy the four bar segments.

In the late 1990s, Nash formed the group the Lewis Nash Ensemble along with Steve Nelson, saxophonist Jimmy Greene, bassist David Funck and percussionist Steve Kroon. The group performed throughout the New York public school system for two years as part of a program that was affiliated with Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In 1998, Nash performed in a trio with Carter and Kenny Barron. In October of the same year, Lewis led a quintet at the Village Vanguard with Steve Nelson, Peter Washington, Jimmy Greene and violinist Regina Carter. The following year, Lewis appeared on singer Diana Krall’s album When I Look in Your Eyes. The album features full orchestral versions of several popular standards including “Let’s Fall in Love” and “The Best Thing for You.” A fine example of Nash’s contribution to the record is the popular standard “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

The song begins with an introduction from vibraphonist Larry Bunker before the strings of the orchestra enter the arrangement. Shortly after, guitarist Russell Malone enters with Nash following suit, first performing slight ornamentations with his brushes to evoke the sentimental atmosphere of the song before performing in rhythmic unison with Malone. Beginning with Krall’s piano solo, Lewis adds accents on the ride cymbal with his drumstick to highlight the rhythms Krall uses, adding more power to the song.

In 2001, Nash accepted a position on the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music. The same year, Lewis became a member of the ensemble the Classical Jazz Quartet, an ensemble that takes classical compositions and transforms them into jazz compositions. Formed by Ron Carter and Kenny Barron, the group also features vibraphonist Stefon Harris. In August 2001, they released the album Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, an album featuring eight compositions from the composer’s famous suite.

On January 26, 2004, Nash released It Don’t Mean a Thing, his second album as a leader. The same year, Lewis appeared on albums for pianist McCoy Tyner and vocalist Jane Monheit.

In 2005, he recorded a third album as a leader,Stompin’ at the Savoy, along with Steve Nelson and Peter Washington. A perfect example of the trio’s accomplishments is the song “Tickle Toe.” Nash begins the song by performing a drum roll on the tom and quickly swelling it into an intense, almost tribal beat. Shortly after, Nelson enters the arrangement performing haunting chords which Lewis sets off by continuing his somewhat static beat. Throughout the verse, Nash enlivens the performance with accents on the snare drum, which the overall song a sense of excitement.

In 2006, Nash performed on pianist Renee Rosnes' album A Time For Love. The following year, Lewis appeared on trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’s album Standards & Ballads. The album reached the number six position on Billboard Magazine’s Top Jazz Albums chart. Nash also tours with The Blue Note 7, a septet formed in honor of the seventieth anniversary of Blue Note Records. The ensemble features guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Bill Charlap, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Nicholas Payton,Peter Washington, and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson.

Nash lives in Spring Valley, New York and maintains an active recording and touring schedule.

Select Discography

As a leader

Rhythm Is My Business (1989)

It Don’t Mean a Thing (2004)

Stompin’ at the Savoy (2005)

With Betty Carter

Whatever Happened to Love? (1982)

Look What I Got (1988)

With the Classical Jazz Quartet

Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (2001)

With Tommy Flanagan

Beyond the Blue Bird (1990)

Sunset and the Mockingbird: The Birthday Concert (1997)

With Antonio Hart

For the First Time (1990)

With Diana Krall

Only Trust Your Heart (1995)

When I Look in Your Eyes (1999)

With Joe Lovano

Tenor Legacy (1993)

Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard (1994)

With Branford Marsalis

Random Abstract (1987)

With Wynton Marsalis

Standards & Ballads (2007)

With Charles McPherson

Come Play With Me (1995)

With Renee Rosnes

A Time For Love (2006)

With Stephen Scott

Something to Consider (1990)

Contributor: Eric Wendell