As the urban landscape has evolved in downtown Phoenix, a creative space called The Nash has been offering up a steady stream of traditional and contemporary jazz inside a purple building in Roosevelt Row.
The Nash is celebrating its seventh anniversary this weekend with a series of events that reflect the range of its priorities, from performance to creating community.
Joel Goldenthal, a jazz pianist who serves as executive director for The Nash, talked with Phoenix New Times in late September, eager to share memories of some defining moments.
Sporting a metal belt buckle with the letters J-A-Z-Z and a gold chain necklace, Goldenthal talked about everything from the first note played at The Nash to the students he’s seen blossom through the Jazz in AZ education programs at the heart of this musical enterprise.
Here’s a look at seven highlights, shared as The Nash celebrates its first seven years.
“Some people have a jazz gene, but it needs to be ignited,” Goldenthal says. Before he talks about all the jazz greats who’ve walked through the doors, he gushes about the youth who’ve discovered jazz or honed their skills at The Nash.
About five years ago, he says, a student from Arizona School for the Arts became involved with The Nash, not knowing how its community would encircle him after tragedy struck. His father, a volunteer with The Nash, died less than a year after being diagnosed with ALS, a neuromuscular disorder.
“When he passed, his family held his memorial here,” Goldenthal recalls. For Goldenthal, who prefers to keep the family’s name private, it’s a powerful reminder of the ways music brings people together.
Civil Rights Icon
“Herb Ely called me up for coffee one day,” Goldenthal recalls. It’s a familiar name for civil rights
“He was interested in opening a jazz venue in downtown Phoenix to give young musicians a place to learn jazz and build the jazz community,” Goldenthal says. Soon, they connected with Lewis Nash, a renowned jazz drummer from south Phoenix who’d moved to New York City decades before. He’s the Nash in the venue’s name, and he still performs from time to time with fellow jazz greats and young emerging musicians.
Texting a Legend
“We were looking for someone to open the Nash and play a fundraiser for us, so Lewis texts Wynton Marsalis.”
That’s how Goldenthal remembers looping in the world-renowned trumpeter and composer, who also serves as artistic director for Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Goldenthal says Lewis’ text read something like this: “How would you like to come to Phoenix to open my club?”
The text did the trick, he says. Marsalis drove to Phoenix and showed up to rehearse the day before he played the opening concert. “He came in with a trumpet in his hand and just started to burn for an hour,” Goldenthal recalls. Since then, numerous jazz luminaries have graced The Nash stage.
“Al McCoy was inducted into the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor in 2017.”
This reference to the longest-running announcer in NBA history opens Goldenthal’s story about how The Nash got its Yahama grand piano.
McCoy was a jazz pianist before becoming a broadcaster. Goldenthal recalls getting a call from him after he was presented with the award.
“The Suns gave me this magnificent Steinway piano, but I don’t really need it, so I told them I want them to give it to The Nash,” Goldenthal remembers McCoy saying at the time.
The Nash needed a different size piano, so Goldenthal pulled some strings to make it happen.
“It took seven months of alchemy to turn it into the Yamaha,” he says.
“Timothy came to our
Goldenthal has strong memories of Timothy Johnson showing up one night, then quickly getting involved as a volunteer at The Nash. Years before, Johnson had operated a restaurant called Timothy’s at 16th Street and Maryland Avenue where you could hear jazz seven nights a week.
Johnson quickly became the lead volunteer for The Nash, but today he serves as bar manager. The Nash is up to around 130 volunteers now, and Goldenthal says the ones who stay have at least one thing in common: “Jazz has been tremendously significant in their lives.”
“You can’t have liquor within 300 feet of a church, and we’re 150 feet from Roosevelt Community Church,” Goldenthal explains. “We operated as a BYOB for about a year and a half.”
There’s an alcohol-free jazz club in New Mexico where patrons have coffee and doughnuts, but Goldenthal wanted The Nash to serve beer and wine, so the venue took creative steps to make it happen.
First, they sought an exception to the 300-foot rule by claiming to be an association. Later, he says, they talked with city officials about creating an entertainment district that would allow exemptions. The district launched in 2015, which is why you can buy drinks rather than doughnuts during concerts at The Nash.
“The Piper Trust invited us to be considered for the Atlas program,” says Goldenthal.
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The program includes tools and funding to help small nonprofits thrive for the long term by building capacity and increasing sustainability. The program includes $50,000 in grants to participating nonprofits. The Nash plans to put its money toward ticketing and customer relations management software, as well as refining its brand.
“There are only five places in the country that do what we do,” Goldenthal says of The Nash. It’s a reference to coupling strong performance and education programs.
“I’ve always had this passion for jazz, but it’s losing traction in American culture,” Goldenthal says. “The Nash works because there were all these jazz assets in silos, and we gave everybody a chance to come together.”
The Nash is scheduled to celebrate its seventh anniversary from Friday, October 11, through Sunday, October 13. Visit thenash.org for details.