Lewis Nash is feeling great — and for good reason.
The jazz venue named in his honor is celebrating its 10th anniversary in downtown Phoenix as the Valley’s premier destination for the kind of music Nash has spent his whole life playing and preserving.
Since an opening concert by Wynton Marsalis in April 2012, several jazz greats have graced the Nash’s stage, from Kenny Barron and Cécile McLorin Salvant to the late Roy Hargrove.
There are plenty of highlights to reflect on — like being named a great jazz destination by Downbeat magazine. But 10 years in, the team behind the Nash is more concerned with looking to the future, starting with the venue’s anniversary celebrations, which begin Oct. 28 and feature performances from Nash’s All-Star Quintet, Cocomama and the Scottsdale Community College Jazz Orchestra with saxophonist Jimmy Greene.
“I think we’ve established that it’s a place where you can expect high-quality music on a consistent basis,” Nash says. “You can expect to be treated with respect and courtesy. Young people are encouraged to participate.”
Still, he sees it as a work is progress.
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The Nash’s plans for moving forward
Housed in a small silver building on Roosevelt Row, the front row at the Nash is an arm’s length from the stage. Some of the venue’s major goals it set out to accomplish in 2012 are also within its grasp: to serve the local jazz community by engaging young musicians to perform while offering educational opportunities
The Nash has made two recent hires that the drummer feels will go a long way toward accomplishing those goals: Director of Development & Communications Naquana Borrero and Director of Education Clark Gibson.
“Putting those people in place is essential to moving forward,” Nash says.
As to the challenges that lie ahead, Nash says the biggest is maintaining a viable space in a growing city, especially as expenses increase.
That doesn’t mean they’ll shy away from leveling up to keep things fresh.
“You can’t rest on your laurels,” Nash says.
When Nash was first approached about the venue in 2011, he knew it sounded like a great idea that he wanted to be part of bringing to fruition.
“But having been part of it now for this long, it’s made me even more determined and more aspirational about what can happen,” he says. “I see even more possibilities now.”
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The Nash’s new diversity initiatives
Borrero joined the team in January to grow the Nash’s “small but mighty operation,” as she puts it.
She wants to build out a more robust fundraising program, build up the name in the community and help diversify its patrons and donors.
“Jazz has a history of having its creators be one demographic and its listeners have often morphed into another demographic,” Borrero says. “So what we want to do is make sure that all lovers of jazz are being serviced.”
To make that happen, Borrero says they have to take risks. “It’s easier to always work with the same partners and always do a similar routine year after year.”
This year, the Nash secured a primetime slot at Phoenix’s Juneteenth celebration. They also started a monthly Latin Jazz series.
It’s about “talking to folks and going out into the community, making sure that the right people know what we’re doing,” Borrero says. “It’s just working with intention that matches what we want to do.”
They’re also taking the Nash on the road with pop-up shows from Gilbert to Tolleson and South Phoenix to Anthem, to meet more people where they are.
“We can let them know we’re putting on 300 shows a year where they can hear really high-quality music in a venue Downbeat said is one of the best jazz venues in the world,” Borrero says.
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The Nash’s new Women’s Initiative
Borrero is especially proud of the Women’s Initiative Program that the Nash will announce on the opening night of its anniversary celebration with a performance by New York City’s Cocomama, an all-female Latin Jazz ensemble.
“Women are underrepresented in jazz in all capacities,” Borrero says. “As players, as administrators, as audio engineers, all around.”
Enter the initiative, which launched a student ensemble called the Nash DivAZ led by saxophonist Mary Petrich, who will co-direct the program with Borrero.
The Nash is also hosting master classes about women musicians, hosting roundtable discussions and launching a community group for “women who maybe played at a different time in their life and haven’t played in a while but would like to get back in an ensemble.”
All these efforts serve a mission “to close the gap and to elevate women to a more equal playing field,” Borrero says.
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Ramping up education programming
Gibson joined in mid-June as the Nash’s first full-time education director.
“He hit the ground running,” Borrero says.
Gibson wants to create new programs and “serve the Phoenix community’s diverse population.”
He’s done outreach at area schools, recruiting musicians to play in the nonprofit’s student ensembles: Futures for junior high students; Legacy for high schoolers; Jazz DivAZ; and the vocal ensemble.
“The Nash has been living off its great reputation for the last 10 years, which is fantastic,” Gibson says. “It was managing to attract students just on being the Nash alone, with no active recruiting involved. So that’s a really big part of my job.”
The results don’t lie.
“Not to gloat,” Gibson says. “But we had a record number of students audition for our Legacy program, which is fantastic, and all our ensembles are up and going.”
Besides hosting hundreds of shows a year, the Nash visits schools in the Valley, presenting workshops on jazz with interns from Arizona State University acting as a traveling house band.
The Nash is one of two jazz education providers for grades K-6 at the ASU Prep campus at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in downtown Phoenix.
“We are in schools now weekly providing a jazz education curriculum to their fourth through sixth graders,” Borrero says.
“And then for their kindergarten through third graders, we provide all-school assemblies and workshops so the younger kids will be able to learn the types of instruments associated with whatever genre we bring in.”
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The importance of jazz education
A new program Gibson has piloted with Glendale Community College aims to create satellite jazz programs to help underserved students get the music education resources their public schools may not provide.
Getting young people involved in jazz is important on levels that go beyond stocking the Nash’s ensembles.
Education programs include a jazz and wine event on Friday nights at GenuWine in downtown Phoenix.
“It’s like a book club, but a record club,” he says. “We listen to a record. Then we sit and talk about it.”
Borrero sees exposure as the biggest challenge moving forward, especially with regard to younger people.
Jazz has declined in popularity, she says. But as pop music context, it’s key.
“Jazz is really the foundation of American popular music and it gives you a foundation in what came after,” Gibson says.
“But it’s also part of the youth understanding our own cultural importance as Americans, this beautiful contribution that Americans gave to the world, largely coming from the African-American population. I love sharing that message with the younger generations.”
The Nash 10th anniversary
Cocomama: 7 and 9:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28. $42 and up; $16.50 for students.
Lewis Nash All-Star Quintet: 7 and 9:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29. $60 and up; $27.60 for students.
The SCC Jazz Orchestra with Jimmy Greene: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30. $32 and up; $12.50 for students.
Where: The Nash, 110 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix.
Details: 602-795-0464, thenash.org.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-4495. Follow him on Twitter @EdMasley.
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