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
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in the classroom