Trio happy to play jazz that embraces form & freedom

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Pianist Joe Sample, saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Lewis Nash all seem comfortable with the opportunity to create music Wilson says is built around “freedom with a form.”

Each of two concerts March 16 at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side will feature Sample performing solo, and Wilson and Lewis playing in a duo.

Wilson says he and Lewis have put together a performance built around song and melody, far from an edgy sound that a sax-drum duo might suggest.

Sample says solo recitals are at the heart of piano-playing.

“That's where it all began,” he says. “Sitting out there playing by yourself.”

These types of shows are something they all appreciate. Wilson and Nash say it is because the shows give them the chance to display their shared dedication to melody. Sample likes it because he is not hemmed in or pulled along by anyone else.

For all, though, it provides an individual look at performers who are busy in many ways and show up in various settings. Sample is best known for his work in the famous Crusaders, a group that sometimes assembles for reunion concerts. Now, however, he works largely in a trio setting.

Wilson has a trio and quartet in his own name, plays with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and with other performers such as drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, who featured him at the JazzLive festival here in 2012. He also teaches in two schools in New York City and a nearby state-university campus.

Nash is a near-omnipresent drummer who works in his own groups, as well as with a wide range of performers and groups of various sizes.

He says his fondness for the saxophone-drum duo began when he played in one when he was growing up in Arizona. About 10 years ago, he says, when he was working with Wilson, he decided the saxophonist would be a good partner for such a project.

It is work they do not do enough, Wilson says. He thinks that lack of dates is because many concert planners or promoters look at a sax-drum duo as being an avant-garde group, like one done by John Coltrane and Rasheed Ali.

But, he says,their duo focuses on songs many people know or even originals that are built on structured melodies.

He also says they try to create an actual dialogue with the audience, trying to figure out what people want to hear.

“We want to make it as much a casual, living-room kind of experience as we can,” he says.

He adds the use of familiar material is particularly effective because listeners “have their own preferences and references.”

Nash says they still have a great deal of freedom with the music they use, but thinks familiar songs give the audience a chance to understand ”the ways we can deconstruct that material.”

Sample says he enjoys solo challenges because “it gives you the chance to show what it is to be a piano player.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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