'Something That Is Very Real For Me': Ted Nash Completes His 'Chakra'

Nov 16, 2013
Originally published on November 16, 2013 5:29 pm

Working as a jazz musician in the 21st century is difficult enough, but hardly anybody tries to make a go of it with a big band anymore. Yet that's exactly what Ted Nash does on his latest album, Chakra.

The new record is based on the Hindu philosophy that seven points in the human body — chakras — are centers of vital energy. Nash says the new record came about through a commission from a jazz producer he'd met during a recording session. Nash says he knew little to nothing about the belief system when he was first presented with the idea.

"I actually didn't have much reference point. I wasn't practicing anything to do with chakras, actually," he says. "I knew a little bit about it, theoretically. And, of course, heard about it over the years. But it wasn't a real personal choice for me."

After being commissioned, Nash says he threw himself into the research process to learn as much about the belief as he could. He even visited a chakra specialist. When he'd completed six of the seven movements for the record, the composer says he felt a spiritual need to halt the process.

"I waited three or four years before getting to number seven, which is sort of the highest, most spiritually evolved of the chakras. I waited, because I wasn't ready to perform the music or record it," Nash says. "When I was writing the melody, I was sitting at the piano. When I finished playing it, I actually cried. I had tears in my eyes, and I realized, 'Okay, I'm touching on something that is very real for me.' And then I began to capture that as much as possible."

In addition to discussing his evolving connection to Hindu practices, Nash recently spoke with NPR's Arun Rath about how his role as a conductor differs from his experience as a musician. Click the audio link to hear more of their conversation.

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Once again, you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.


RATH: It's not easy to make a living as a jazz musician. Saxophonist Ted Nash makes it work, but he probably makes it harder on himself by also being a composer who's recently developed a taste for writing large-scale works. So when he was offered a commission for a big piece, he was thrilled. Great, he said.

TED NASH: He says but it has to be a specific theme of the seven chakras.

RATH: And you had no idea what he was talking about?

NASH: I mean, I had a basic idea about it. But really, when it comes down to it, I knew very little about the seven chakras and began my research.


RATH: Ted Nash is not a Hindu. Even if you are a Hindu, you might not be up on the details of the chakras. In yoga philosophy, there are seven energy centers in the body. They start at the base of the spine and work their way up. And that first chakra represents your more base - lower emotions.

NASH: Then at a certain point, I realized I wanted to experience it in a different way. So I went to a chakra specialist and had some work done to sort of feel the effects of being worked on my chakras.

RATH: And what do they do? What does a chakra specialist do?

NASH: Well, they have different techniques. This one used her voice. And she sang in a really kind of a shrill voice, but it was - just got deep inside of me. Her name is Jodi Serota and she's - that's what she does. She's a chakra healer. She said: Is there a particular chakra that you are concerned about? I said, well, to be honest, I think my fifth chakra, which is the communication chakra, is one that I need some help with because I was about ready to do something that required me to be very succinct and very articulate and I didn't feel I was ready for that.

And so she worked on my fifth chakra. And then when I showed up in the situation, I was extremely articulate, and I got to the point, and I got to things that I wanted to be very clear about. So it was a great experience.


RATH: And then so you built the compositions kind of on that, one for each chakra, starting from the bottom?

NASH: Exactly. I started from the beginning. You've got the root chakra, which is also known as Muladhara, and it's the most basic. It's the foundation. It's our most unconscious, really, primitive self. And so, you know, I created an ostinato bass line. It's a very - like, the foundation. It's like an infant looking out into the world for the first time. So I made the piece very simple, and it grows as if the infant was starting to learn about life.


RATH: You mention that bass line. I kind of feel that throughout this album, there is kind of, there's - obviously, there's a pulse to any music, but this feels especially organic. There's almost like a heartbeat going through this.

NASH: Yeah. I feel a very important relationship to the rhythm section for this project. And there's even the heart chakra in that piece. It's called "Air." It represents our ability to love, you know, to devotion and self-confidence. They're very important forces as we strive to, you know, achieve a balance. So I do use the feeling of the heart. There's like a heartbeat at the beginning of this movement.


RATH: What are the kind of sounds and textures you can get with a big band that you couldn't with a more standard size jazz ensemble?

NASH: Well, you know, first of all, with a big band, you can really explore chords. You can make the chords much bigger than you can with, say, a smaller group. With a brass section, you've got a variety of mutes that changes the color of the sounds. You've got Harmon mutes and plunger mutes. The plunger mute makes it sound like a human voice.

Remember in the Charlie Brown thing, when he's talking to his parents, it's always a trombone (makes sound). So it's like that human voice sound. So when I did number five, which is this - the throat chakra, I had Alfonso Horn use the plunger mute to get that sort of vocal sound. So that was one way I was able to use the colors of the instruments and variety of colors of the instruments to get a particular sound.


RATH: I'm talking with Ted Nash. His new album is called "Chakra." In terms of leading an ensemble, how is it different being a conductor from being a band leader?

NASH: I love standing in front of the big band, and I don't do it as much as I want. But there's something about looking around, having all these great musicians bringing to life your music and then being able to shape it. You stand in front of the band, you can look around, you can help the dynamics. If you're feeling something spontaneously, you can make it happen with your hands, with certain indications. And I love that. I love sort of shaping the band. It's almost like being a sculptor as much as you are a conductor.


RATH: I want you to talk about the last tune on this album. It's called "Cosmos." It feels like it covers a lot of musical and spiritual territory in seven minutes.

NASH: It's funny because when I wrote this piece of music, I wrote the first six movements, and then I stopped. And I waited three or four years before getting to number seven, which is sort of the highest, most spiritually evolved of the chakras. And I waited because I wasn't ready to perform the music or record it, and I wanted to be myself as spiritually evolved as possible before doing it. I sat with it for a while. And suddenly, I came up with this melody.


NASH: And when I was writing the melody, I was sitting at the piano. And when I finished playing the melody, I actually cried.


NASH: I had tears in my eyes. And I realized, OK, I'm touching on something that is very real for me. And then I began to capture that as much as possible.


RATH: Ted Nash's new album, "Chakra," is a big band project. He spoke with me from New York. Ted, thank you so much.

NASH: Thank you. It's great to be here, as always.


RATH: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. Follow us on Twitter: @nprwatc. Tune in tomorrow for our look at the brave new world of Internet domain name sales. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.