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What Is This Thing Called Soul

Conversations on Black Culture and Jazz Education


Damani Phillips

How does academic jazz education impact the Black cultural value of soulfulness and esthetic standards in contemporary jazz music? Through candid conversations with nine of the country’s most highly respected jazz practitioners and teachers, What Is This Thing Called Soul explores the potential consequences of forcing the Black musical style of jazz into an academic pedagogical system that is specifically designed to facilitate the practice and pedagogy of European classical music. This work tests the belief that the cultural, emotional and esthetic elements at the very core of jazz’s unique identity, along with the music’s overt connection to Black culture, are effectively being "lost in translation" in traversing the divide between academic and non-academic jazz spheres.

Each interviewee commands significant respect worldwide in the fields of jazz performance and jazz pedagogy. Noteworthy subjects include: Rufus Reid, Lewis Nash, Nicholas Payton and Wycliffe Gordon—along with the late jazz masters Marcus Belgrave and Phil Woods. Interviews are supplemented by original analysis of the nature and validity of these issues contributed by the author.

What Is This Thing Called Soul offers a candid and objective look into pressing issues of race, culture and ethnic value in relation to both jazz music and jazz education. Sensitivity, marginalization and even a fear of offending others has limited open discussion of how the soul of jazz music can be lost in technical boundaries. What Is This Thing Called Soul is the first attempt to directly address such culturally urgent issues in jazz music.

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Chapter 9. 4/4 Swinging Beat: Lewis Nash Interview (1958–)



4/4 Swinging Beat

Lewis Nash Interview (1958–)

Lewis Nash is an American jazz drummer who was born and raised in Phoenix; AZ. Nash played drums in Phoenix area while attending Arizona State University, before moving to New York in 1981 to join the band of legendary vocalist Betty Carter at just 23 years of age. This gave him the opportunity to hone his chops with world-class musicians like Benny Green, Stephen Scott, and Don Braden. He appears on many of her recordings, including the Grammy Award-winning 1988 CD, Look What I Got.

As a performer and recording artist, Nash’s resume is nothing short of extensive. Modern Drummer Magazine states that Nash has one of the longest discographies in jazz, having played on over 400 records by musicians. This fact earned him the honor of being named “Jazz’s Most Valuable Player” by the magazine in its May 2009 issue. Nash is both noted and respected for his ability to adapt to a vast array of music genres. This is evidenced in his work with such drastically differing artists as Tommy Flanagan, Melissa Manchester, Diana Krall, and George Michael. Nash has made 5 recordings as bandleader: Rhythm is My Business (1989), It Don’t Mean A Thing (2003) and Stompin’ at the Savoy (2005), Lewis Nash and the Bebop All-Stars featuring Frank Wess (2008), and The Highest Mountain (2012). As a performer, Nash has performed with a veritable who’s who of jazz luminaries – including...

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