Lewis Nash – The Heart Behind the Beat

Modern Drummer Magazine once called internationally renowned drummer, Lewis Nash “the most valuable player” in jazz. A performance center named after him, The Nash Jazz Club, located in central Phoenix is also the home of Jazz in Arizona, a nonprofit organization founded in 1977 that encourages and supports the performance of, and appreciation for, the great American-born art form called jazz. I wanted a sense of the beat that drives Lewis Nash, here’s what I got in a recent conversation with him.

“I am inspired by my students,” Lewis shared. “As you can imagine, being remote at ASU during the pandemic offers a challenge for the Jazz Studies program, but we’re finding ways to engage. I find inspiration in their readiness, preparedness and engagement and that keeps me wanting to be ahead of them – you know, have my material ready and just be ready to learn from them as well. With the privilege of being a professor at ASU, I can share many of the experiences I had when traveling the world and doing all the things I did as a career performer. I’m able to distill those experiences and bring the knowledge I gained into the classroom and into my interaction with the students.”

Born and raised in Phoenix, Lewis began playing drums at age 10 and by the age of 18 he performed with local jazz groups. He attended ASU where he was a broadcast major with no vision about music becoming his career. “Music was something I had always done and enjoyed, but I hadn’t chosen it as a career path, maybe because I didn’t know any professional musicians or anything about the life of a professional musician.”

Things changed when a fellow musician from the music department approached him after rehearsal and asked if he was a music major. “I said I wasn’t. I was an undergrad, he was a graduate student, and he added, ‘So, you don’t plan on going into music as a career?’ When I said ‘no’, he commented,‘I think you’re making a mistake.’ That was one of the earliest of heart-prompts – ‘Okay Lewis, stop and think about what this person is saying to you.’”

Once the seed of that dream was planted, things happened quickly for Lewis. “I flew to New York and auditioned for the singer, Betty Carter. She selected me and next thing I know, a couple weeks later we’re in Washington DC and I’m playing on stage with this international star. And then I’m in Europe. It was a whirlwind for me – it threw me into the fire, so to speak, after those years in Phoenix and New York. I was traveling the world for the very first time performing music, understanding what world traveling means with airports and train stations, being up early for hotel departures and all that kind of stuff. It was all new to me. I was really having to learn a lot about being an adult and a professional musician with the responsibilities that go with that such as being on time and learning to read music. With Betty, I learned about being a professional musician on the road. She encouraged me to always search for new things to play so I wouldn’t become a habitual player. She called me ‘Kid’ back then because I was 22 when I joined. She’d say, ‘I already heard you play that, Kid. Find something else.’ Every night, I heard that so I was constantly exploring and being creative with her and that was a good thing to get early on – and that has stayed with me.”

Lewis performs at The Nash, but his heart is also working with the student musicians who take part in ensembles, jam sessions and other educational activities offered there. “I try to instill in my students a kind of self-discipline which can lead to the mastery of self and a mastery of technique that will elevate them to the highest levels of musicianship. So to me it’s not about genre – it’s style, musicianship, professionalism, self-motivation and such qualities I believe can be instilled. Talent without those things can stagnate or under-develop. So I try to impress attaining qualities like these to achieve a greater level of proficiency at whatever you’re doing. When these are in place, the elements necessary to do things on the highest level, you need to add to that mix the openness to other people’s musical vision so you can collaborate. It’s not all about how you personally see it or hear it. If a person has that openness and you combine that with a high level of musicality and technical proficiency and have an openness to collaborate, those are all the makings for success.”

And what of his own early years? Lewis chuckles as he recalls them. “Can you imagine me leaving Phoenix and going to New York City? And I lived almost 40 Years in New York, that’s nearly all of my adult life! When I think about it, it’s just amazing. I didn’t give-up. I kept my nose to the grindstone.”

He adds, “But I think my best is yet to come.”

As it comes, Lewis Nash will surely be counted among the artists who have made a difference in other people’s lives; through his performance career, through his teaching and through life experiences shared with those who will follow in his footsteps. As the best comes his way, Lewis Nash will take it in his own hometown of Phoenix, where he has now returned – and the beat goes on.

Lewis Nash Percussionist Drummer Musician

The Nash Jazz Club envisions an inclusive ever-expanding community that experiences, learns about, and supports the art of jazz.

Performance • Education • Community

To learn more visit www.TheNash.org.

Lewis Nash – The Heart Behind the Beat | By Lynn Alison Trombetta

ARTSource Volume 6

Author: ARTSource

About the author