The Beat Goes on at Lincoln Center
by Will Friedwald
JAZZ: February 2003

“Without rhythm, your heart wouldn’t beat,” Frank Sinatra once quipped.
“I would just sit around listening to Eddie Fisher records.” Sinatra wasn’t just aiming a zinger at a rhythmically challenged crooner, he was making a solid point, and it’s one that few musicians would argue with. Rhythm and percussion are at the heart of what makes jazz. Without it, jazz would be something else: polka bands, Irish folk music...

Jazz at Lincoln Center is devoting much of its 2002-03 season to demonstrating just how essential percussion is to jazz, with a series of concerts of various sizes they are calling “The Year of the Drum.” The series began in the fall with programs built around Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Terri Lynn Carrington and Max Roach.

In January, the series continued with “Rhythm Is My Business” (Jan. 24) showcasing drummer Lewis Nash, one of the great contemporary power drummers. He came of age with the late Tommy Flanagan and, despite being a powerful force on his instrument, has been reluctant to put himself in the spotlight. His program proved that he knows at least as much as the next bandleader in terms of putting an evening of jazz together. The two-set show ran the gamut of instrumental formats from full septet to a completely unaccompanied drum solo rendition of Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance.”

For the most part, Mr. Nash set up two horns, tenorist Jimmy Greene and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, and put them up against a fearsome five-piece rhythm section, including percussionist Steve Kroon, pianist Renee Rosnes and vibraphonist Steve Nelson. All combinations worked well, especially a Modern Jazz Quartet styled unit of vibes, bass, piano and Mr. Nash’s drums on his own minor blues, “106 Nix.”

Not surprisingly, industrial strength rhythm and percussion predominated. Yet, the standouts were the two most memorable melodies, Ellington’s “The Mooche” and Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” (and what’s an evening without a waltz), played in charming duets between Nash and Steve Wilson on clarinet and soprano.