Jazz pianist and composer Josh Nelson sees beauty in the most unlikely places. His current, multi-media “Discovery Project” focuses on the city that gave him life.
The third in an immersive, living jazz series, “The Sky Remains: Exploring the Past, Present and Future of Los Angeles” has done so well with audiences up and down the West Coast that NPR’s “Jazz Night in America” will feature the project 7 p.m. Feb. 23 on WBGO and again 11 p.m. Feb. 25. The episode will also be available on NPR member stations all that week and uploaded to the website by the end of Feb. 23.
WBGO produces the nationally syndicated weekly radio show and concert video webcast, “Jazz Night in America.” The show is one solid hit, and an important platform for jazz.
The NPR team visited L.A.’s Blue Whale to capture Nelson’s “Discovery Project” concert — the second of two — featuring his go-to band: vocalists Kathleen Grace and Lillian Sengpiehl, and drummer Dan Schnelle, as well as guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Alex Boneham, clarinetist Brian Walsh, saxophonist Josh Johnson, and trumpeter Chris Lawrence.
Shooting the concert with NPR “was a great experience!” according to Nelson. “They flew out from New York City and recorded our second night of music at the Blue Whale, and then filmed and interviewed me over the next couple of days as we recorded the album. Great folks, great questions (with a bit of a ‘La La Land’ slant to the story — L.A.’s ‘real' Ryan Gosling jazz pianist!), and I couldn’t be more thrilled!”
Historian Robert Petersen narrated Nelson’s love note to L.A., which is full of interesting anecdotes and noteworthy facts. In fact, the project's subtitle has its own interesting, noteworthy history.
“The Sky Remains” comes from “the title track on the [upcoming] album, a new tune I wrote with excellent vocalist/songwriter Kathleen Grace,” Nelson explained. “It reveals a lesser-known story about L.A. philanthropist Griffith J. Griffith, who donated the large land area that is now Griffith Park. He had a turbulent and angst-ridden personal life, and took out some of his anger on his wife Tina.
“From the lyrics to the song:
‘What is remembered? How do we forget?
When men change history in the smoke of a cigarette.
What is a story, a picture in a frame?
The city’s different but the sky remains the same.’”
A record based on this project is in the works, most likely for a fall release. “We don’t have an exact release date at this time, but the new record is due out later this year. I’m excited about it!”
Travis Flournoy was responsible for the live video projections, a hallmark of Nelson’s “Discovery Projects,” dating back to his first in 2011 — offering audiences an immersive sequel to one of his first conceptual albums, Discoveries, and one devoted to his fascination with the steampunk, sci-fi dream world.
Nelson’s abstract, conceptual music serves as the foundation for the “Discovery Projects’” fully immersive, multi-media experience.