JAZZed In the Classroom

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					            in the classroom                               IRA NEPUS

                JAZZed In the
                BY BRAD HOWEY

                Ira Nepus is one of the quiet heroes of today’s jazz world. He has performed
                and/or recorded with some of the greatest names in jazz, including Benny
                Carter, Woody Herman, Quincy Jones, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Ella
                Fitzgerald, Diana Krall, and Cab Calloway – to name a few. He was one of
                the founding members of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and contin-
                ues to perform with them after over 20 years. He has recorded in every ma-
                jor Los Angeles-area recording studio, and can be heard on soundtracks for
                movies and television shows from Remember the Titans to X-files and from
                Family Guy to Jeopardy.
                   We are so fortunate that he is willing to spend some      We’d do our jazz set there and on our breaks I’d run
                time with us at JAZZed In the Classroom.                     over and sit in with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big
                                                                             Band. In a relatively short period of time I went from
                JAZZed: Welcome, Ira.                                        the very beginning of jazz, in New Orleans, to sitting
                                                                             in with the most contemporary big band in the world
                   Ira Nepus: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.                at that time. Being able to cross over like that was like
                                                                             going through a musical time machine.
                JAZZed: You’ve had the opportunity to see and be a part          I think it’s important for young players today to
                of so much of the history of this great music. I’d like to   really understand the entire history of jazz, and to be
                start by asking for a story. Would you be willing to share   able to know and play the repertoire. I didn’t go into
                a favorite memory with our readers?                          Preservation Hall with lead sheets and a fake book.
                                                                             Whatever tune they’re playing is the tune I had to
                     IN: One of my fondest memories as a professional mu-    be able to play – the tunes those guys played every
                sician was when I was in Woody Herman’s band, in 1969        night. But then to go and sit in with Thad Jones-Mel
                or 1970. We were in New Orleans working at Al Hurt’s         Lewis and read the very sophisticated charts they had
                nightclub for two weeks. We would do two shows a night,      stretches you to the max. You’ve got to be at their
                and would have up to two hours off between shows. So, I      level, as well. It really stretches you, and makes you a
                would run across the street in the French quarter and go     better player.
                sit in with all the old New Orleans guys, like Sweet Emma,       That was one of the greatest memories of my life.
                Louis Catrell, and Punch Miller over at the Preservation
                Hall. Then I’d go back and play my sets with Woody Her-      JAZZed: Incredible, Ira.
                man – two completely different genres.
                     After we left that gig' we flew to New York City,           IN: It was just amazing. And then there were those
                where we were working at one of the major hotels.            three weeks at Caesar’s Palace in Los Vegas – with

                                                                                                         JAZZed November 2008 53

JAZ_53 53                                                                                                                         11/14/08 10:06:53 AM
            in the classroom
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Description: In a relatively short period of time I went from the very beginning of jazz, in New Orleans, to sitting in with the most contemporary big band in the world at that time. In normal life when I go to the post office, or the bank, or to the gas station, I'm living at that level. Continue to run with this and have some fun - these are two of the finest jazz bands ever to play a note and it is really just flat out incredible that you're giving your kids a chance to listen to them!
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