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Yes, I know it’s sort of like New Yorkers trying to name their favorite Met or Yankee - or even Marx Brother. Still, even though it sounds prejudicial to cite Ted Nash as my favorite composer / arranger / soloist working within the larger aegis of the Jazz at Lincoln Center organization, I still must confess that it’s Mr. Nash’s new works that I look forward to hearing more than anyone else’s. (Though I will also admit that the forthcoming concert of new music inspired by architecture, including new music by Andy Farber, also has me very excited.) That the iconic actress (not to mention national treasure) Glenn Close is not only performing in Transformation, but she also participates as a co-creator, makes it even more exciting.
Three years ago, Mr. Nash introduced an exceptional new work, The Presidential Suite, in which he extended the possibilities - notably explored by Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus - of combining the spoken word with large-format orchestral jazz. His latest effort goes even further in that direction, not only conceptually - where that work was devoted to the notions of freedom as expressed by world leaders from FDR to JFK to LBJ to Nehru to Churchill to Reagan, this time the guiding philosophy is the concept of change. For Transformation, there will again be readings, carefully curated by Ms. Close (from the writings of Joni Mitchell, Ted Hughes, Conrad Aiken, Edward O. Wilson, Louise Glück, Tony Kushner, Judith Clark, among others), who will be joined by a small, select cast, also including John Cameron Mitchell and Adriane Lenox. But this time, there will also be dance and song, and performances from the celebrated downtown diva and transgender icon Justin Vivan Bond. There also will be what promises to be a moving letter by the composer’s child, Eli Nash, on a highly personal transformative experience.
Between the dependably-sturdy quality of Mr. Nash’s music - he never lacks for brilliant musical ideas, and Presidential Suite, even without the moving spoken portions, was an extended jazz work of rare value. (The highlight, for me at least, was the African and Carribean-inspired setting of the words of Nelson Mandela.) The accompanying actors, singers, dancers, and speakers are more than icing on the cake but an intrinsic part of the author’s message. I expect there will be a great many standing ovations at this concert, so be sure and wear comfortable shoes.
Photo: Frank Stewart