In June, 2018, the DC Jazz Festival will present drummer-educator-bandleader Nasar Abadey with its Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his stellar contributions to the art form of Jazz. Past Lifetime Achievement Award recipients include: Dave Brubeck, Sadao Watanabe, Ellis Marsalis and George Wein, among others. Abadey is the founder, leader and driving force behind the Jazz band SUPERNOVA® that blends influences from traditional African rhythms, bebop, fusion, Afro-Cuban, Afro Brazilian, modal and free form and is the founder and Artistic Director of the Washington Renaissance Orchestra, a sixteen-piece big band dedicated to promoting and coordinating Big Band Jazz performances. The recipient of many other awards, including the Jazz Lobby Honors for DC Jazz Leadership and Service Award and the UBC John Coltrane Black Classical Music Lifetime Achievement Award, he is Professor of Jazz Percussion in the Jazz Studies Department at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.

Stay Thirsty Magazine was honored to visit with Nasar Abadey at the Peabody Institute for this far-ranging Conversation about his Jazz career and role of music education.

Nasar Abadey – Multi-D

STAY THIRSTY: What does the music of Coltrane, Davis, Ellington and Gillespie mean to you? How have these greats influenced your musical thinking and your life?

NASAR ABADEY: Among others, these men were all innovators of this music. Mr. Ellington had an orchestral approach to composition and form. He pioneered textures that were not common or popular in the onset of developing his creative style of writing. Ellington’s utilization of the horns in his compositions to express sounds of animals in the African forest, or his exploration of voicings like the flat five chord and their extensions which he sometimes spread among the horns, was quite a powerful effect.

Dizzy Gillespie along with Charlie “Bird” Parker created Bebop. This was a music whose language and vocabulary changed what was, to what has now become the status quo, due to a more angular approach. This concept began to extend the harmonies by playing notes that extend the chords beyond the octave i.e., to the 9th, 11th, and 13th degrees of the scale.

Miles Davis, an apprentice to Gillespie and Parker, changed the style of the music coming out of Bebop to the Birth of the Cool, which was an extension of Bebop. It had a more laid back approach versus the hot house style of Gillespie and Parker, later pointing the way for Davis to form his own unit that further explored Bebop. He did this until coming to focus on modal scales, i.e., Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, etc. This modal exploration occurred while John Coltrane was a member of his first great Quintet and exposed him to the modal approach.  

Later as a result, John Coltrane would go on to use the modal approach as his focus on composition, improvisation, melody and chordal voicings. He was also a spiritual man, and therefore his music reflected his spiritual leanings and aspirations to utilize his music as a healing force, with compositions like “A Love Supreme Suite.” Duke Ellington also aspired towards using his music to proclaim the existence of God through his sacred music with compositions titled, “Come Sunday.” That’s where I come in. I am highly influenced by these fine gentlemen to continue the exploration, and promulgation of this music as a healing force and to continue in the tradition left to us as a legacy to respect, honor and preserve its existence. Music in general provides a nexus to the heavenly realms.  

Nasar Abadey

STAY THIRSTY: You refer to your music as “Multi-D.” What does that mean and how does it differ from traditional jazz?

NASAR ABADEY: Multi-D refers to the terms multi-directional, and multi-dimensional, thus Multi-D. I like to think of music going in many different directions simultaneously. Another way to describe it is poly-directional. Likewise, I think of my music as being able to help the listener experience various dimensional realms while engaged in it. The music isn’t really much different than other forms of complex music, it just makes people aware that it is intended for deeper realms to be accessed than with the average music that is available to hear.

Another point, I wanted to take the opportunity to name my music and its approach, while at the same time making it easy to speak the term around the world. I named the music because I’m not wedded to the term Jazz to describe my music, as the origin of the word jazz has a derogatory meaning.

Traditional Jazz, if you will, has the same qualities in many cases but maybe not driven by the same intention. For me the intention is the most important part of the presentation. Is the intention to heal and construct or cause illness and destruct? I choose to heal.

STAY THIRSTY: You have recorded two albums with your band SUPERNOVA®. What was the genesis of this eleven-piece chamber orchestra and how has it advanced your thinking about jazz?

Nasar Abadey – Diamond In The Rough

NASAR ABADEY: Let me start out by stating that SUPERNOVA® is a band of varied and broad proportions. It has experienced various size enhancing and formats. My first CD, Mirage, was basically a quartet with the addition on one track of a tenor saxophone, rounding it out to a quintet. My second CD, Diamond In The Rough, was a different approach. On the title track, I had four horns and on the track “Sacred Space,” I added a harpist. The SUPERNOVA® Chamber Orchestra has not released any tracks, but that’s all yet to come. That particular band includes but is not limited to, piano, bass, drums, alto saxophone and trumpet, and includes a string quartet, with flute and percussion. The band that will perform on April 1, 2019 will include the full chamber orchestra. 

STAY THIRSTY: You are also the artistic director of The Washington Renaissance Orchestra. How did that organization come about and how does it differ from SUPERNOVA®?

NASAR ABADEY: The Washington Renaissance Orchestra (WRO) grew out of a need to further experience the dynamics of operating a large ensemble to perform original material and arrangements of songs composed of the great ones, the masters that came before us. We keep our performances down to maybe three times a year. Unlike many other big bands, I don’t want to tie the band down to a commitment once every week which would in turn limit our appeal to the general public. So my vision and intent is to feature the band when we have a special project to prepare for and promote it. This strategy insures that the band will have a wide appeal simply because we are not available once a week in a venue where we are not able to generate fair compensation for our output. Don’t get me wrong, I think it best for a band to have a home base venue to perform and develop its repertoire and book. However, the frequent and easy access, and over exposure can stifle its ability to attract large audiences.

SUPERNOVA® is a smaller band (quintet-quartet) and easier to book because of its size. The music is looser and more abstract with less restriction on form and programming. SUPERNOVA® is a band that I’ve been leading for many years with very few personnel changes and it satisfies my need for freer forms of expression.

STAY THIRSTY: You have played throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Africa. Do audiences in various cultures respond differently to your music? Are some cultures more receptive than others?

NASAR ABADEY: In my experience, I find that the audiences of Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, Central America and even Canada are much more receptive to and appreciative of our music. Though I have not had the opportunity to perform in Asia or South America I am informed that it is the same in those cultures as well. I’ve played small villages in Europe where everyone attended the concert, including the elderly and the very young. I think that is because these cultures recognize our music as a viable art form worthy of their attention and support. Art is more appreciated as a way of life outside of the USA rather than how it is appreciated here. I’m sure that is why art is more supported and subsidized by other countries than is the case in the USA.

I find that people all over the world want the same basic thing, love, food, shelter, peace, respect and honor. No matter what is our language, religion, customs, etc., music is a common language and art form that is easy to communicate with.

STAY THIRSTY: Do you prefer to play music or to compose it? Which comes easier to you?

NASAR ABADEY: They are both different so I like to think of them as the same thing on different sides of the same coin. When I am playing Jazz I am composing on the instantaneously. When I am composing music, I can hear how I will be performing it on the drums. It is easier for me to play than to compose. Although there have been occasions where a song has come to me in its entire form with all its parts.

Mirage and Diamond In The Rough

STAY THIRSTY: How did you learn to play jazz and how do you teach jazz to aspiring young musicians?

NASAR ABADEY: Believe it or not, I am still learning how to play Jazz. Playing this music is infinite. There is always something new to learn about playing this music. It changes so much in each decade. Learning it is to completely find new ways to play it and to study how our forbearers handled the same challenges we have to deal with today, but with more technology.

When teaching Jazz I continue to express the importance of finding and cultivating your own voice as a musician, and to study the masters and learn the language and vocabulary of Jazz. The history and language of this art form are two of the most necessary elements to understand about this music.  

STAY THIRSTY: When one of your students at the Peabody Institute graduates and goes off into the jazz world, how confident are you that they will succeed?

NASAR ABADEY: I teach my students all aspects of performing Jazz to help them attain success in this business. They must learn not only how to develop their technique on the instrument, but how to read music, to compose music, lead a band, learn the business of music and how to deal with rejection, which are all very important issues to contend with. I encourage my students to always continue to work on things that are very difficult for them to do. 


All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.