Performer Profiles: Stephanie Nakasian

What/who are your musical influences?
My main influence musically in my life continues to be my amazing partner Hod O’Brien – who represents the best things about jazz – authenticity, swing, fresh melodic lines of improvisation and connection to the roots of the music. Of course Ella, Billie, Sarah, June, Peggy Mildred, Anita, Blossom, Shirley, and others are in there, as are Bird, Diz, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges and Louis. And my two years with John Hendricks were great – teaching me so much about the “authentic” way to be in jazz.

What have been your musical highlights/accomplishments over the last year?
During the past year, besides teaching an inordinate amount – 42 private students at UVA and William & Mary each semester – I had the opportunity to return again to L.A. to portray June Christy for Ken Poston’s LA Jazz Institute’s “Something Cool” Festival – quite a treat, as my concert, celebrating 50 years since the 1954 release of June’s recording, was the name of the festival. Sang the great Rugolo/Kenton charts with an amazing big band and also did a Chris Connor tribute with another big band for a Sunday brunch. Glad I was able to see Howard Rumsey one more time before his passing too!

Where do you see Traditional Jazz in today’s musical landscape? Its’ influences & importance?
I don’t like categories, but I teach all my students about the early music prior to bebop and help them to hear the subtleties in the phrasing and melodicism in the music. Louis Armstrong is still a modernist. It’s still rare to find young players who can stand on the bandstand as horn players and play at the same time and improvise together (as opposed to “waiting for your turn to solo”) – that’s an early jazz thing that needs to be taught and learned. You can’t go “forward” without knowing the masters – that’s what Duke Ellington’s nephew Michael James told me. My Thrush Hour cd and the courses I teach and concerts I give are about singing in many styles and helping to educate fans and students in the early music. My first festival was the Manassas Jazz Festival with Tommy Saunders, a real Trad’ fest , and I loved it and they loved me.

What separates the North Carolina Jazz Festival from other festivals that you have participated in?
The NCJF is “home” for us – we have been coming to Wilmington for over 25 years and performing in everything from restaurants like Justine’s and Ferrovia to Thalian Hall and UNCW and for radio shows at WHQR. So, for us, it’s family and very personal. We loved Harry and he used to always come to our shows at Water Street. Why is it different? Probably for the same reason – it’s fun, personal, lots of time to mingle with the fans and the music is always great! This is my fourth time at the NCJF, and I’ve had great “moments” with Harry Allen, Ken Peplowski, Bucky, Milt Hinton, and so many more…. Looking forward to it!

What has been your most memorable moment performing on stage?
My most memorable moment on stage? That’s so hard – there are family moments like singing with Veronica at age 9 and Hod at Water Street and then the “big” shows in Russia and the big bands with Peter Rugolo in L.A., tours with Danish Radio Big Band, clubs like the Jazz Standard, Dizzy’s and Kennedy Center….but sometimes it is the audience that makes the show – not the venue – audiences in Richmond, NYC, and Wilmington are primo fans! You feel “fulfilled” at the end of the night. I guess my best night was my first June Christy show in Newport Beach, CA outside with Pete Rugolo and 1,000 Kentonites- I think that I got 7 standing “O”s that night – many in the middle of the songs! WOW! I couldn’t sleep for days–

Anything else that you would like to add?
I guess I want to add that we are grateful to Sandy and Wilmington for helping us to do our work and for loving us musically and personally. We are happy to be coming home again.