January 1, 2011

2010 Year in Review

2010 was a great musical year. Not only did I get to continue playing with some of the musicians and bands that I have long-term relationships with, but also made new connections that I hope will make 2011 an even more exiting year. Below is a roughly chronological account of some of the things that made the last year special.

One of my first gigs of the year was going down to Eugene to play with singer Jessie Marquez. Clay Giberson, my partner in the Duo Chronicles project (more on that later) had been playing with her for a while and introduced her to my playing. Throughout the year, we played quite a few gigs and did a couple of recording sessions. One of the recording sessions was done on a television soundstage with a full contingent of camera operators, a makeup artist, recording engineer, and more. Just a few months later, we went to Kung Fu Bakery to record a new album, produced by Clay Giberson and Phil Baker. The recording was done by Bob Stark, who also played a prominent part in this year’s recorded musical activities.  Here’s a video from the soundstage recording:

(“Let Me Arrive” — Jessie Marquez/vocals, Clay Giberson/keyboard, Dave Captein/bass ,Charlie Doggett/drums, Raphael Trujillo/percussion, John Nastos/saxophone)

The early part of the year also brought ongoing gigs with some of the bands that I’ve been part of for a while, including The Bobby Torres Ensemble and the Art Abrams Swing Machine. I also did a fair amount of subbing in the Mel Brown Septet — a band that I’ve enjoyed listening to and playing with for years.

(“Salt Peanuts” — Mel Brown/drums, Andre St. James/bass, Jof Lee/piano, John Nastos/alto saxophone, Derek Sims/trumpet, Renato Caranto/tenor saxophone)

In March, I played my first show with the Third Angle New Music Ensemble. The concert took place at the Hollywood Theater and featured somewhat Avant Garde music, including a works by local composer David Schiff. This was the first classical concert I had done in a long time and it was an intimidating experience to play with the others, most of whom are Oregon Symphony musicians. Although intimidating, it was a great experience, especially to be able to play next to Todd Kuhns (clarinetist in the symphony), who had coached the clarinet section in the Portland Youth Philharmonic when I was a member back in high school.

(Third Angle New Music Ensemble at the Hollywood Theater)

Later in March, I got the rare chance to sub for Renato Caranto in the Mel Brown B3 group, otherwise known as the Thursday night band at Jimmy Mak’s. This was a particularly special night, because blues legend Curtis Salgado was a featured guest and performed most of the night with the band. Playing in that band and that style (Motown, blues, funk) is always a fun experience.

(Mel Brown B3 Band — Curtis Craft/percussion, John Nastos/tenor saxophone, Mel Brown/drums, Curtis Salgado/vocals and harmonica, Louis Pain/Hammond B3 organ)

April was my first gig of the year with Marianna and the Baby Vamps — a band with 3 female singers, doing songs from the 50’s to originals from today, presented in a true “show” form. The band’s vibe fits perfectly at Tony Starlight’s Supperclub and Lounge in the Hollywood neighborhood of Portland. Although the gig doesn’t fit the typical jazz gig vibe with lots of solo space, it can be just as much fun to fit the style, play the part, and put on a show to really entertain the audience.

In May, rehearsal started for what was definitely the most fun musical theater production that I’ve been a part of. The show, “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Portland Center Stage, featured a small cast of actors and tiny pit orchestra (just four of us), that grew very tightly knit over the course of the run. It was such a pleasure to be part of a production where everyone was having fun, there was no ‘drama’ besides the play itself, and where everyone involved, including crew, cast, and orchestra got along. It also didn’t suffer from the typical mental challenge of doing the same show 8 times again, since the script relies on audience participation and a fair amount of improvisation from both the cast and orchestra. It was also a pleasure to work with Susannah Mars, Gavin Gregory, and Sara Catherine Wheatley, all of whom were returning to Portland Center Stage after having done “Ragtime” there in 2009.

The Summer brought the usual schedule of club gigs, outdoor shows, and of course, some vacation time. Highlights from the Summer include lots of Bobby Torres gigs (Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, Silverton Arts festival, Tualitin Hills, etc), a Shelly Rudolph outdoor gig in Lake Oswego, a couple shows with NY-based pianist Chris Parker, an Upper Left Trio + 1 show at the Mission Theater, and a concert on the riverfront in St. Helens with King Louis and Sweet Baby James on James’s birthday. In July and August, I was lucky to be able to take some breaks and go to our family’s cabin on the Santiam river with Ali. As great as playing gigs is, relaxing by the river has its place too.

2010 was a great year for making records. Early in the year, I recorded with Damian Erskine for his second album. Since then, the band has started picking up momentum and it looks like some fun stuff will happen with the group in 2011. On a side note, playing with that group has been a huge challenge to learn the rhythmic approach that Damian and the drummer (Reinhardt Melz) take with the music. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

(“Fif” by Damian Erskine — Ben Darwish/keyboards, Paul Mazzio/trumpet, John Nastos/tenor saxophone, Jason DuMars/soprano saxophone, Reinhardt Melz/drums, Raphael Trujillo/percussion, Damian Erskine/bass, David Goldblatt/keyboards)

Back to the recordings, in the Spring, I worked at Kung Fu Bakery on the new Intervsion record, featuring myself, Paul Mazzio and Jeff Uusitalo on horns. In the summer, I recorded with Jessie Marquez (as I mentioned above) and Art Abrams, both with Bob Stark engineering, for records that will be released early in 2011. I also had the pleasure of doing a few recording sessions with Ghanaian master drummer Obo Addy for his new record at Falcon Studios.

On August 24th, Clay Giberson and I finished the last video of our year-long Duo Chronicles project.  Since September of the previous year, Clay and I put out a new song in video form each week.  52 weeks later, we completed our goal of going for a full year.  The project was one of the most musically-rewarding things that I’ve ever done — getting to write, rehearse, play, experiment, and create that much material and work so consistently was a great experience.  Of course, being done with that project, I feel like I need to come up with something for 2011…

(Duo Chronicles — “The Final Week” — Clay Giberson/keyboards, John Nastos/woodwinds)

Speaking of musically-rewarding experiences, I was able to write and arrange for a number of projects this year, including the Damian Erskine Project (horn arrangements for his record), the Art Abrams Big Band (big band charts for live gigs and his new record), and, something I really didn’t expect: commissions from Thomas Lauderdale for Pink Martini for their symphony concerts.  After having worked with Mr. Lauderdale arranging and transcribing charts to be performed by the Art Abrams Big Band at a fundraiser for the Oregon Symphony’s Carnegie Hall trip, he asked me to do an orchestral arrangement of one of the charts (a medley of Happy Days are Here again and Get Happy that Barbara Streisand used to do) for full orchestra.  With only three days to get the job done, I scrambled and made the deadline, and Pink Martini played it with the San Francisco Symphony.  A couple months later, Thomas had me re-orchestrate the piece again to feature a male vocalist for Rufus Wainwright’s performance with the Oregon Symphony as part of 2010’s Time-Based Art festival.  I was able to go to the concert, and hearing my arrangement performed by a full symphony orchestra, plus Rufus and Storm Large singing, was unbelievable — I feel very lucky to have worked on that.  Later that week, they performed the same arrangement in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl:

(“Get Happy/Happy Days are Here Again” arranged by John Nastos, performed by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra featuring Rufus Wainwright and China Forbes)

After another musical at Portland Center Stage during the fall, the Winter schedule was mostly comprised of gigs with the regular bands again — more work with Mel Brown, Damian Erskine, Marianna and the Baby Vamps, etc, and also a gig with the newly-resurrected Commotion!, led by Ben Darwish.  Finally, the year ended with a great gig with the Bobby Torres Ensemble at the Benson Hotel.

In the first paragraph, I said 2010 was a great year.  After spending the time recalling all of the gigs and writing about the experiences, I want to revise my opnion, though; 2010 was a fantastic year — lots of music with new and old friends, challenging experiences, and fun gigs.  I’m optimistic that 2011 will be even better.  Thanks to everyone who I got to play with in the past year and the audience members that came to hear us.

September 28, 2009

Ragtime at Portland Center Stage – the first week

This past Friday (9/25) was the opening performance of “Ragtime” at Portland Center Stage.  Although the actors have been rehearsing for over a month and the orchestra has now had a couple of full weeks, the public hadn’t had a chance to see the show until this weekend, so (as is always true) the show suddenly became a lot more real feeling as soon as there were paying audience members in the seats.

For both Grey Gardens and Ragtime, the orchestra has had a rather non-traditional placement in the theater.  Instead of being in the orchestra pit in front of the stage, the orchestra lives on what’s called the “slab,” which is behind the stage.  So, as an audience member, if you had X-ray vision and could see through the back wall of the set, you would be able to see into our space.  The instrumentalists’ backs would be towards you and Rick Lewis (our conductor) would be facing you.

Rick watches what is going on onstage from a small closed-circuit television in front of him.  The actors can see Rick’s conducting on a large monitor facing the stage mounted in the back of the theater (if you were watching the performance, you could turn around and see it from most seats in the house).  The instrumentalists also get to see what is going on onstage via a large monitor behind Rick.

Of course, there’s also sound to deal with.  The singers are miked and played to the orchestra through monitor speakers in front of the instrumentalists, and vice versa.  The audience hears a mix of the two (singers and instrumentalists) through the house speakers (no, not Nancy Pelosi).  All of this is controlled by the wonderful sound crew at PCS.

These complicated logistics are really just to allow everything else (the playing, singing, acting, dancing, etc) to be presented to the audience in the best sounding and looking way.  This is important, because PCS cast some great onstage talent for the show.

The orchestra has some great talent as well.  It’s a challenging score for everyone involved, whether that means Clark Rust powering through the unrelenting high notes in the trumpet book or me having to deal with playing flute and piccolo without ever getting a break to play some saxophone!  But, according to the audience, we sound good doing it, and I think we’re getting better at it each night.

Ragtime runs through November 1st.  We perform eight shows a week (Tuesday through Sunday, matinees on Thursdays and alternating weekend days).  Hope to see you there.

September 3, 2009

Duo Chronicles mention on KMHD blog

Today, KMHD mentioned Duo Chronicles (my new project with Clay Giberson) on their blog.  I’m obviously greatful for their mention, but I think the more important story here is that KMHD has a blog!  It’s great to see the changes that the station is implementing since their merge with OPB and the addition of Matt Fleeger.  It looks like the station is finally moving into the future with the rest of us.

August 25, 2009


I’m a huge podcast fan.  I have a fairly length commute into town during which I’m always listening to something on my iPhone.  Around the apartment, if I’m doing chores, I’ve got earbuds in digesting as many podcasts as I can.

Recently, I’ve been checking out some of the CD Baby podcast, which seems to have some great ideas for musicians.  I’d encourage anyone (sideman or a leader) to check it out.  I’m getting more and more ideas for things to do with an upcoming project I’ll be doing with Clay Giberson.  Keep an eye on this space…

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