The Nash, which had its grand opening in September 2012, is sponsored by Jazz in Arizona, a nonprofit organization founded in 1977 to support and promote jazz artists and fans in Arizona. The organization sponsors events like the Chandler Jazz Festival and Valley’s Jazz Divas concerts, as well as visits to Arizona schools to teach students about jazz music.
Joel Goldenthal, executive director of Jazz in Arizona and The Nash, said it is significant for The Nash to be regarded as one of the institutions that have been presenting top jazz throughout the history of the genre.
DownBeat, started in 1934, is a monthly music magazine that focuses on jazz and blues and is known for its annual reader and critic polls and surveys in various categories.
“DownBeat is the most prestigious publication and institution in the jazz world, so to be acknowledged by DownBeat as one of the great jazz venues in the world, especially after nearly 18 months in existence, validates the impact of The Nash,” Goldenthal said.
When the members of Jazz in Arizona came together to plan The Nash, Goldenthal said they tried to create a venue that would be attractive to young audiences.
“We had a series of meetings where we invited students, educators and stakeholders in the community to talk about what would be successful,” he said. “When it opened its doors, the educators and the students and the community had a sense of ownership in this venue. They helped create it.”
Michael Kocour, director of jazz studies at ASU, has played and taught music lessons at The Nash. He said he agrees with DownBeat in giving this award to the venue.
“DownBeat Magazine has been the magazine for professional musicians and music fans for a very long time,” Kocour said. “They’re comparing The Nash with the greatest jazz venues in the world.”
DownBeat has also recognized artists such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis in its polls.
“I like the space because of the acoustics. You get to hear creative music in an intimate setting with friendly people around, both in the audience and the staff,” Kocour said.
The mix of instrumental, vocal, traditional and younger, more exploratory artists featured at The Nash adds a particularly unique entertainment option to downtown Phoenix, Kocour said. “It’s not something that’s packaged like some sort of traveling show that’s in town,” he said.
Kocour contrasted the welcoming and friendly environment of The Nash with those of other jazz venues.
“I’ve been to performance venues and nightclubs where I felt like I was kind of hustled in and hustled out,” Kocour said.
But unlike the feeling of being “packed in like sardines” at other clubs, Kocour said he appreciates the comfort of The Nash.
“You get to The Nash and you’re invited in and you’re welcome to stay,” Kocour said.
Phoenix New Times also named The Nash “Best Jazz Joint” last year.
Prior to the opening of The Nash, Jazz in Arizona put on about six concerts each year. They now host around 250 events per year, Goldenthal said. The Nash sees about 1,500 people through its doors every First Friday, the only free event the venue offers.
Snarky Puppy, the instrumental band that won a Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance at the end of January, performed at the Nash last September. Another Grammy-award winner who attended an event at the Nash was jazz guitarist George Benson. Emmy-award winner musician and composer Nick Manson has also performed at the venue.
Because The Nash is sponsored by a nonprofit, Goldenthal said there is a continued need of funding.
“We exist and will grow based on our ability to attract philanthropic support for what we’re doing,” Goldenthal said.
John Cowan, a volunteer coordinator at The Nash, said the growth he witnesses in the students who learn and practice at The Nash is unique to this venue.
“It strengthens their character as a person. You watch them get stronger and learn and there’s no greater feeling,” he said.
John’s wife Marcia Cowan, who is also a volunteer coordinator, said what may look like work to others is mostly enjoyment for her.
“I’m here because I love being here,” Cowan said.
She said The Nash staff is always recruiting more volunteers, whose jobs may include ticketing and the arranging of tables and chairs.
Marcia said she is amazed with the improvisation that takes place during the weekly jam sessions — performances of six to eight musicians who have often never met before.
“They’re not speaking in words, but they’re speaking a language that’s universal,” Cowan said.
She recalled a particular experience watching a nervous high school student overcome his stage fright and, with the encouragement of the volunteers and instructors, perform in one of the jam sessions.
“When that happens, it’s like I know why I’m here,” she said. “It’s so worth it.”
Correction: March 6, 2014:
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that George Benson had played at The Nash. He had attended an event at the venue.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Nick Manson had won a Grammy. He has won two Emmy awards.
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