Los Angeles-based composer and pianist Josh Nelson is one busy dude. When he’s not lost in the worlds of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, he’s expanding his musical repertoire. Nelson has played with some of the most respected names in the business, including Ralph Moore, Natalie Cole, Ernie Watts, Jack Sheldon, Queen Latifah, and Tom Scott.
Discoveries is his latest album. He enlists the services of tremendous players, including Larry Koonse and Dontae Winslow, in the creation of his expansive universe. Nelson’s fifth recording as a leader carries themes of inspiration and human possibility.
I recently had the chance to chat with the 2006 Thelonious Monk Competition semi-finalist about his inspirations, motivations and outlook for his musical future.
Discoveries features a brilliant Mark Twain quote in the liner notes. In part, it reads, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did.” How true is that for you as a musician?
That quote really jumped out at me the first time I read it. It kind of became a touchstone ideal for me for this record, and I definitely try and keep it in my mind when I do everything else in my life too. Carpe diem! This project seemed far-fetched, or maybe not fully realizable, when I first came up with it. Tying early sci-fi ideas and imagery to jazz music? But now, here it is! And I'm proud I took that leap of faith and put it out into the universe. Thanks, Mark Twain.
There is also a quote from H.G. Wells that references “the dream before the awakening” and talks about the potential of the human mind. How did this notion play into where you hoped to go with the record?
[There are] two sides to that quote. [First], some of the melodic and thematic material that I developed on this record literally came from dream states...I travel a lot, and often am running on little or no sleep. Some of the most interesting ideas that I think manifested on this record came from that sleepy frame of mind...dreamlike, curious, tired but still actively thinking...in jazz (and most music-making genres, I guess), you have to be ready to perform, create, and deliver no matter what your physical and mental state is. Sometimes I find when you think you're not going to come up with any good ideas, that's when you do! Random times of inspiration.