January 1, 2012

2011 Year in Review

As we come to the end of 2011, for the third year in a row (see 2009 and 2010) I’m writing a “year in review” piece, documenting some of the most important musical experiences I’ve had during the past year.  The writing serves a couple of purposes: first, the seemingly ever-present need to promote one’s gigs and activities as a working freelance musician, and second, to be a journal of sorts that I can look back on.

My first musical event of 2011 (if you don’t count the ending of the Bobby Torres New Year’s Eve gig which technically extended into the new year) was on January 3rd, when I went over to Clay Giberson’s studio (where we had recorded Duo Chronicles in 2009/2010) to lay down some woodwind tracks for the new Go By Train record.  I’ve been listening to Go By Train since they started up and have been a long-time fan of Dan Balmer’s, so it was great to get a chance to participate on the record.

In February, I got another chance to play with Portland’s Third Angle New Music Ensemble.  This particular concert was filled with challenging music, curated by David Lang, including Kate Moore’s 101 and Oscar Bettison’s ppopp.  Playing avant-garde classical, or really any kind of classical music, always scares me some as there’s never an opportunity just call a tune and blow on a few choruses of rhythm changes, but it was a welcome chance to do something new and play with great players I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to perform with.  Later in the year, I played on another Third Angle concert, performing Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint.

In the middle of March, jazz musicians from the I-5 corridor stretching from Eugene and Corvallis up to Portland got together to do a performance of music written by James Miley and Justin Morell for Willamette University’s faculty music concert series.  As of yet, this has been a one-time event for the band, but I certainly hope it returns.  It was a great combination of people, including Portland people I get to play with often (Damian Erskine, Lars Campbell) and Eugene folks I rarely get to see (Joe Manis, Joe Freuen).  Here’s hoping that the group makes a return in 2012.

At the beginning of April, for the first time since being in the Portland Youth Philharmonic during high school, I performed at the Schnitzer Auditorium.  The performance was my first time getting the opportunity to play with the Oregon Symphony.  Although the program wasn’t exactly a curated collection great classical literature (it was a Beatles pops concert) it was still an amazing (and intimidating) chance to be on the stage with musicians of that caliber.  Virtuosity shined through in a few sections, most notably from Jeff Work on trumpet who had a couple of chances to shine on the Classical Mystery Tour material.

Luckily for the Portland jazz scene, the Blue Monk has started to have jazz regularly again (thanks to Mary Sue Tobin especially for her work on the Ninkasi Presents Sunday jazz series there).  In May I played there with saxophone-legend John Gross (author of Multiphonics for Saxophone) in his band Saxophobia.  I love playing in small groups with other saxophonists and Portland has a great variety of musical personalities to do that with — John Gross, Tim Willcox, Rob Davis, etc — all guys I would pay the price of admission to go listen to, so getting to play too is just icing on the cake.

May was also a significant month for me because I finally released Metronomics, an iOS app that I had been working on for a few months.  I originally built the app to work on my own sense of time (playing in the Damian Erskine Project being the primary motivation…) and decided to polish it up enough for others to use.  Now, thousands of musicians all over the world are using the app, which is a neat feeling, especially since I don’t have a CD under my own name yet, and this is the only commercial product of my own.

At the end of June, I played for the first time with Diane Schuur.  Portland (now Spokane) bassist Scott Steed got me on the gig, which was a four-night run at Jazz Alley in Seattle.  This was really my first gig with a big-name touring jazz artist and I’m grateful for the chance to play with her.  That gig also led to a week-long run in Japan during July, a few days in San Francisco during November, and a two-and-a-half week tour in Europe in December.  In January, I’ll head to Baton Rouge to play a one-night show with her there.  There are lots of stories to tell about that gig, but you might have to catch me in person to hear them.

Besides the Japan gig with Deedles (Diane’s nickname of choice) I didn’t play a ton of music during July, primarily because I took an uncharacteristic non-musical vacation during that month.  Ali had been gone finishing a nursing program in Georgia for the last half of June and first half of July and instead of flying home after she was done, we both flew to New York.  The trip was great — I got to catch up with friends, introduce them to Ali, see great music, visit museums, and brave 100+ degree weather in Manhattan.  Of course, all of that is insignificant compared to the highlight of the trip — I proposed to Ali and we became engaged on the roof of Belvedere Castle in Central Park.  My beautiful fiancé and I plan to get married next winter.

At the end of August, I went to Kung Fu Bakery (one of my favorite places in Portland to record) and worked on horn section tracks for a band known at the time as Marianna and the Baby Vamps.  Since the recording session, they’ve changed their name to The Bylines.  Not only did I get to work with some of my favorite horn-section compatriots (Paul Mazzio and John Moak — dubbed by Paul the “Budget Brass”), but I got to work again with Reece Marshburn and Marianna Thielen (also recently engaged).  Great band, great charts.

In September, school started up again and I began helping out with woodwinds at both Beaumont Middle School and Northwest Academy.  Both schools have programs led by Cynthia Plank, who is one of the most dedicated band directors I know.  She really goes far-and-beyond to get instruction for her students from professionals working in the local scene.

By the middle of October, Ali and I had bought our first home — a house in NE Portland with a music room in the basement for me to practice, rehearse, and teach in.  For the past year or so I had been spending a lot of time in the Mount Hood Community College practice rooms.  It was great that MHCC had made the facilities available to me (thanks to Susie Jones, and congratulations to her on her retirement this December), but it’s even nicer to have my own space.  I just recently finished the first round of soundproofing work that’ll lead to hours and hours of practice — I couldn’t be more excited.

Much of November and December was spent on the road with Diane Schuur.  Between her gigs, I continued with my other regular Portland bands.  During the course of the year, I had picked up a permanent spot in the Mel Brown Septet, which plays every Tuesday at Jimmy Mak’s.  I had been listening to that band since I was in middle school and subbing in it since high school, so it’s a great pleasure to be a full member now.  I’m excited to go to the gig every time we play.

Another regular gig that I’ve been enjoying is the Chuck Israels Jazz Orchestra.  Chuck writes music that is unlike anything else I get to play — very intricate horn lines, often arranged from Bill Evans’ piano solos, for five horns.  You’ll never hear an eight piece jazz group play more quietly than we do.  On the opposite side of the volume spectrum (although we can play softly too) I’ve become a member of the Carlton Jackson/Dave Mills Big Band.  We play every third Monday of the month at Secret Society.  It’s another group I’ve been listening to since I was in high school and it’s comprised of great Portland players.  One of the highlights has been the tenor chairs, one of which is most often occupied by Dave Evans and other has been either John Gross, Pete Peterson, or Rob Davis.

2011 also continued musical relationships I’ve had in past years.  I played lots of gigs with Bobby Torres, Jessie Marquez, Ben Darwish’s Commotion, the Damian Erskine Project, the Art Abrams Swing Machine Big Band (which released the album we recorded in 2010 this year). and more.  Hopefully 2012 will continue those relationships and build new ones.  I find there’s almost always something musically exciting on the horizon.


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.


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