Nate’s Story

It started with the John Boorman film Emerald Forest. As a child, I spent my days—and nights—in a small-town repertory theater owned and run by my family. There, at The Fine Arts in Maynard, Massachusetts, I watched many, many movies. And I watched them many, many times. Today, when I look back at the unfolding of my musical life, I can see that even then my ultimate destination would be to write music for picture.

Despite sitting through a dozen screenings of Emerald Forest, I didn’t spend my entire youth watching movies though. After years of Suzuki piano lessons, I abandoned that rigid form for a sparkling blue, Ralston drum set. My step dad built me a room in the basement, affectionately known as “the pit,” and there I spent my teenage years, sleeping, studying and banging along with Peter Gabriel, Rush, and Modern English. My older brother played electric guitar, and nights at our dad’s house across town were spent in the garage ripping through–what we considered to be–power-duo versions of “Crosstown Traffic” and “Couldn’t Stand The Weather.” I also took note of Emerald Forest’s brilliant sound track, which is driven mostly by pulsating percussion and indigenous instruments. That contagious music is what attracted me to percussion, and from the age of 13 on, drumming is what I did.

By the time I turned 18, those formative years in New England had taken a toll. Maybe I was rebelling against the preppy LL Bean outfits that my parents had stuffed me into—or maybe against the arrogance of old money. Either way, I turned 18 and headed west to St. Paul, Minnesota. From there, I headed even further west: to Hong Kong. Oddly, it was during my time in China that I truly began my exploration of jazz piano. Go figure. By day, I listened to Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and my militant Mandarin language instructor. At night, I played Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters covers in an ex-pat blues band that entertained sailors on 24-hour shore leave.

 

Somewhere along the way, piano took over. (The arts have a funny way of leading a person down many paths, all in pursuit of the same intangible destination.) I returned stateside and soon began to tour extensively. By day, I taught recorder to kids at a neighborhood Montessori school; by night and on weekends, I loaded up a van and drove to Midwestern college towns to play jazz piano with the Motion Poets, a be-bop sextet that ultimately released three CDs on the IGMOD recording label. Over the course of six years with this group, I cut my teeth composing and arranging for the group’s rhythm section and front line of sax, trumpet and trombone.

After a few years, the call of New York proved too loud to resist, and I moved back East. (New York is, after all, the epicenter of the jazz world.) Once settled in the Big Apple, I formed a world music group, The New Power Trio, with Mark Suter (Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project). For understandable reasons, percussion reentered my life with a vengeance. Mark taught me about the Biao from Brazil and the Rumba from Cuba. We sat on the banks of the Hudson River and played transcriptions of West African timelines. I also traveled to Senegal to study Sabar hand drumming, and upon my return, my passions for jazz keyboards and percussion finally fused. It was as though I awoke to glimpse, for the first time, a unique musical voice. My own musical voice.

I’m now 38 years old, and more than 20 years have passed since my musical journey began. A husband and the father of two irresistible daughters, I live in Brooklyn and work predominantly out of my basement studio and the Manhattan Producers Alliance. Jazz still figures prominently in my life, and I play gigs around the city several nights a week. One night may be solo piano for a private party of Wall Street suits, and the next a thrashing B-3 gig with my latest project, CC Booker III.

As I develop my voice and apply it to picture, many nuances of my personality are surfacing. Specifically, the content of each new television show or film challenges me to stretch my view of beauty and to determine how I can create music that will support that vision.

At the age of 15, my journey had just begun, but looking back to that time from where I sit now, I appreciate that start. Sitting in my family’s movie theatre, watching three screenings in a row of The Mission and soaking up the Ennio Morricone score is a hell of a beginning.

Nate’s Resume

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