Music preview: A drum-sax duo at the MCG and a Pittsburgh debut for Elan Trotman
Saxophonist Steve Wilson, left, and drummer Lewis Nash will be recording their performance at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild this weekend.
Elan Trotman is touring on his latest CD, "Tropicality."
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It might sound weird to conceive of, let alone listen to, a musical duo comprising a drummer and saxophonist. But Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson have been doing just that together for 12 years now, and they'll do it again on Saturday at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild's Jazz Hall.
Indeed, they don't even really think of themselves as simply a sax-and-drums duo.
"Anyone will tell you [Mr. Nash is one of] the easiest drummers to play with," says alto and soprano player Mr. Wilson. "He will play as much melody as any piano player -- he hears the piano parts and the bass parts" as though he were playing them.
Mr. Wilson, a native of Hampton, Va., studied at Virginia Commonwealth University and has lived in New York since 1987, working most recently with trumpeter Jon Faddis' big band. Mr. Nash, a Phoenix native, arrived in the Big Apple six years before that and has worked with Betty Carter, Ron Carter and Branford Marsalis. Four years ago they were a part of the "Blue Note 7," an ensemble which celebrated the 70th anniversary of that legendary record label.
"Lewis has played with all the greats in the business," Mr. Wilson says. "He respects the music, he respects the musicians -- he just plays with so much bounce, so much buoyancy."
As for the material for Saturday's show, "We're going to be doing a couple of originals, some tunes from the standard jazz book, a [Thelonious] Monk medley," Mr. Wilson says. "Sometimes, we don't know what that is until we're going to do the concert."
And this isn't just any gig for them.
"One of the reasons we're excited about this concert is that we'll be recording it," Mr. Wilson says. "We've recorded together with other bands and other leaders, but this is the first time in a duo context. We're hoping [to release it] the end of the year or early next year."
Mr. Wilson is looking forward to his trip to Pittsburgh, if for no other reason than his recognition of the jazz greats that originated here, dropping the names of local jazzmen Roger Humphries, Dwayne Dolphin and David Budway. "We're on hallowed ground when we're there," he says.
Also on the bill is veteran pianist Joe Sample, a founding member of the Houston-born Jazz Crusaders, which later became the Crusaders.
TROTMAN'S PITTSBURGH DEBUT
Growing up in Barbados, saxophonist Elan Trotman got to hear the sounds of smooth-jazz saxophonists Najee, Grover Washington Jr., Boney James and Kirk Whalum when they came to his country to perform at festivals.
Mr. Trotman, who is visiting Pittsburgh for the first time Saturday at JT's at The Club in Monroeville, may very well join them as a star in his own right. He's touring behind his newest CD "Tropicality," a mix of jazz, funk and Caribbean sounds that includes a cover of the Stevie Wonder song "Master Blaster (Jammin')."
While he started playing piano at 7 and saxophone at 12, "I really didn't have much access to jazz" in Barbados, Mr. Trotman says.
After high school Mr. Trotman was given a scholarship from the Barbadian government to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he eventually learned bebop and straight-ahead jazz and about such legendary jazz figures as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. "I try to incorporate all these influences into my recordings," he says.
Mr. Trotman, whose degree is in music education, still lives in Boston and for a decade even taught music at the public school system there. That was a rewarding experience, he says.
"It was an opportunity for me to influence some young musicians," he says. "It's always nice when there's arts in the school. I enjoyed it, and I think they enjoyed that opportunity as well."
About three years ago he decided to strike out on his own as a recording artist. He said his big break came when he invited keyboardist Brian Simpson, a longtime member of fellow saxophonist Dave Koz's band, to perform on the track "Heaven in Your Eyes" from his fifth album, 2011's "Love and Sax."
"That was kind of a breakout recording for me, and that opened some doors," he says.
Since then he's performed some European dates with guitarist Peter White and some spot dates with Mr. Simpson and pianist Keiko Matsui. Last September he even performed on the Capital Jazz Cruise with Mr. Koz.
For the Pittsburgh show, "I'll be doing music from 'Tropicality' plus 'Love and Sax,' " he says. As is typical in the "smooth-jazz" world, "I'll [also] be covering Earth, Wind & Fire, Grover, Motown."
First Published March 14, 2013 12:00 am