A Conversation with Nick Frenay, Young Man With A Horn

On Sunday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m., The Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet will perform at Redding’s Old City Hall as part of the Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall series. This group features some of the finest young jazz musicians from all over the country. Trumpeter Nick Frenay was with the group last year, and their performance was certainly one of the highlights of our series. I had a very enjoyable and enlightening chat with Nick recently:


Dave: Nick, it is great to have you back with The Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet again this year. What have you been up to at the Institute since then?

Nick: We really enjoyed playing at your venue last year. It was one of my favorite shows of the year. This year I have, in addition to performing, been very busy with other aspects of music, such as writing, arranging, and even band leading. Last year, all of the other members of the group were also from the east coast, and I knew some of them well. This year, however, we literally all met at the airport. It has been fun getting to know them and understanding their particular taste in music. This west coast experience has been great, but I miss New York, and hope to go back next year to a conservatory like Manhattan or Berklee in Boston.

Dave: What type of music are you writing and arranging?

Nick: I grew up in a pop-rock environment since my father is a singer/songwriter, so I’m into the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, and other legendary performers of that era. I have been analyzing the work of Burt Bacharach and Steven Sondheim and incorporating their ideas into my compositions.

Dave: Usually when I talk to young artists like you they mention Coltrane, Parker, Gillespie, and Davis as major influences, so it is a bit jarring to me to hear which music icons you gravitate to!

Nick: To me, it’s all about connecting to the audience musically. Jazz enables us to draw on practically every genre of music for inspiration, and reaching out to the audience with music that they are more familiar with is a great way to get them hooked on jazz. After all, as a performer you are there for the audience. The idea of “play what you like, and who cares about the audience?” is not really what performers should strive for. You have your message, and you need to shape it into something accessible by deviating from the normal jazz conventions. If you do that, then your music will be appreciated by all generations.

Dave: Have you been involved in any performances that “deviated from convention” lately?

Nick: Well, what comes to mind is a performance that we did at a church in Modesto. The music director had arranged a piece of sacred music written by Dave Brubeck. I had not known about Brubeck’s involvement in this type of music before then, but it really makes sense when you consider his commitment to social issues like equality and civil rights. The piece was arranged in a Basie style, but was written in 5/4 time — very “Brubeck” and sophisticated. When it came time for the vocal section, the entire congregation chimed in, and never missed a beat. It was awesome!

Dave: That must have been one memorable service. So, do the others in your ensemble have more conventional jazz roots, or are they different, like you?

Nick: I think that they do recognize the contributions of the pioneers in jazz, but have varied influences. For example, our pianist, Alec Watson, studies the music of Keith Jarrett. And even more surprisingly, our saxophonist, Sam Crowe, is a big fan of Techno music. It has been interesting getting to know them and understand their points of view.

Dave: Well, it has been very interesting talking to you, too. We really look forward to your performance on Dec. 5. Thank you for coming to Redding!


The Brubeck Institute & Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet

The Brubeck Institute was established by the University of the Pacific in 2000 to honor its distinguished alumni, Dave and Iola Brubeck. The mission of the Institute is to build on Dave Brubeck’s legacy and his lifelong dedication to music, creativity, education, and the advancement of important social issues, including civil rights, international relations, environmental concerns, and social justice, through its five programs, including the Brubeck Archive, Brubeck Festival, Brubeck Fellowship Program, Summer Jazz Colony, and the Outreach Program.

The members of the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet (BIJQ) are in the Institute’s Fellowship Program. Winners of numerous DownBeat awards, including the 2007, 2009, and 2010 awards for best collegiate jazz group in the country, this group has performed on the Monterey Jazz Festival, Playboy Jazz Festival, Brubeck Festival, Detroit Jazz Festival, and others, and has done concerts in California, New York, Washington, Florida, Texas, Chicago, Toronto, Minneapolis, Washington DC, and on a State Department tour in Spain. Its members have performed in jazz clubs such as Yoshi’s in Oakland, Herb Alpert’s club Vibrato in Los Angeles, Blues Alley in Washington DC, the Dakota in Minneapolis, and the Jamboree Jazz Club in Barcelona.  They have also performed at the annual conference of the International Association for Jazz Education, the Jazz Education Network conference, and in schools throughout the country.

The members of the 2010-2011 BIJQ are: Nick Frenay, trumpet, from Syracuse, NY; Sam Crowe, saxophone, from Denver, CO; Alec Watson, piano, from Geneva, IL; Bill Vonderhaar, bass, from Houston, TX; Colin McDaniel, drums, from Davis, CA.

daveshort-best1Dave Short, M.D., is a Redding family physician. He has been active in the jazz scene since moving back home to Redding in 1980. He loves to play the tenor sax, and has recorded three albums with the band Sax Therapy. His favorite project is “Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall,” a monthly concert series that features the finest north state jazz musicians. To learn more about Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall, visit daveshortjazz.com

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

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