Well, alright. Okay. You win. I’m in love with Dick Nash. And so were a whole room full of folks, musicians and fans alike, who came to the Continental in Saugus recently to celebrate his career at the “Bash with Nash” jam. Now 83, but still but still blowing warm, precise, seamless tones out of his horn, the Boston-born Nash was Henry Mancini’s first call trombonist and a sought-after player in TV, film and studio work for several decades. His fruitful association with Mancini produced some beautiful ballad solos on “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and “Peter Gunn.”
When Nash comes to town, John DeMasi, local trombonist and Nash’s former college mate at Schillinger House – precursor of Berklee, that is – organizes a jam with his talented colleague. Happily, this year’s get-together revived the weekly Sunday afternoon jam series the Continental, beginning on May 1st during Boston Jazz Week, with the Steve Hershman Trio from 3:30-7:00.
A CHAT WITH DICK NASH
“I met Hank when he was an orchestrator,” Nash told me. When Mancini, after moving up through the ranks, recorded the Oscar-nominated music to his first film, “The Story of Glenn Miller,” he had Nash solo on the ballad “Too Little Time.” Ironically, Mancini’s critique of his playing on that tune helped Nash develop the signature smooth tone that Mancini was to use him for repeatedly in the future.
“I had just finished playing,” Nash told me, “when Mancini came over to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, ‘Dick, can you warm it up a little?’”
He definitely did, and he definitely still is. Nash attributes his technical skill to study with John Coffey, then bass trombonist with the BSO, who trained many NEC and Berklee students. The young Nash trained alongside many classical players, but with a different regimen.
“He asked me what I wanted,” Nash recalled, describing his lessons with Coffey. “I told him studio work in Hollywood. And he set me on that course, concentrating on how to put air into the horn for a big sound, how to get the right slide movement, the tonguing.” Nash not only kept his chops up, he passed on the gauntlet to his son Ted, saxophonist and composer whose career led from his first composition at 15, “Tristemente,” picked up by Louie Bellson, to his current gig with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.
So that’s the background. Let’s zone back in on the jam itself. Not surprisingly, horns predominated, backed by a hand-picked local rhythm section – the tasteful Steve Hershman on piano; Dave Landoni on bass, and drummer Ron Plourde, who has a solid understated swing feel. The unquestionable highlight was a “battle of the trombones” soloing and trading on C Jam Blues and Back Home in Indiana. Nine trombonists fanned out around the bandstand to Dick Nash’s left and right – Dan Walker (bass trombone), John Pierce, Fred Schmidt, Fred Bachelder, Mike Strauss, Bob Valentine, John DeMasi, Wayne Branco, and one other fine player whose name I didn’t know but would like to.
Trumpeter Tony Lemmo and tenor saxophonist Benny Goldstein, both long an integral part of this scene, joined Nash and DeMasi for several tunes. On alto saxophone, reeds musician Jim Repa stood out for lyricism and chops. Veteran area vocalists took the mike, notably Alana Manning (impeccably phrased, Carmen McRae-influenced singing) and Suzanne Perel (equal parts jazz and R&B). Suzanne chose Billie Holliday’s sultry “Fine & Mellow,” and her husband, trumpeter Phil Person took a clean, well-crafted solo behind her. Guitarists Mark Michaels and Binney Stone stood up (and plugged in) to be counted. Pianists were also represented, including Jack Senier, Alana Manning’s favored accompanist, and the dynamic Ferdinando Argenti. Joining in on flute on the closing tune “Take the A Train,” Stephanie Stone was the lone female instrumentalist in this historically male-dominated scene.
“I have such nostalgic feelings about Boston,” Nash told me, recalling gigs at the Totem Pole just outside the city, where, as Nat Hentoff once wrote, there were times “when the music and the dancers fused.” Curiously, there no dancers on the floor during the jam, even though this was foot-tapping, finger-popping swing, with many fans there who undoubtedly grew up with the music or were turned on to it by subsequent jump swing revivals. Sure, it’s true that jazz lost of a good deal of its entertainment cachet when big bands were superseded by other forms, and its audience sat down to listen.
But swing was meant for dancers.
There are still plenty of dancers out there, as I found out when a “midi duo” – female singer/piano player and singer/saxophonist, set up after the jam. Accompanied by a track of the Joe Williams song I started off by quoting, through a PA that made it difficult to hear your interlocutor, they started a steady stream of tunes, including some of the same ones that we’d just heard live in the jam. Drawn like a magnet, dancers filled the floor, to music out of a box, “played” by two front people whose expertise may mostly have been in programming. State of the art, I guess…