Dan Nimmer has been the pianist for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (formerly known as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) since 2005.
He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1982 and at age ten began playing by ear a piano that his family inherited. Soon he was given classical lessons and at 15 he began to study jazz at the Milwaukee Conservatory of Music. His parents took him to local jazz clubs so that he could hear the music and also eventually get opportunities to sit in and meet people. It wasn't too long before he started working with the man who became his mentor, Milwaukee saxophonist and legend Berkley Fudge.
Upon graduation from high school, Nimmer went to Northern Illinois University where he studied music for two years while working in Chicago clubs and expanding his contacts and repertoire. Soon he joined guitarist Fareed Haque's band, with whom he has been touring and recording ever since.
Nimmer made the move to New York City in January of 2004 and was quickly discovered there. He began working with Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, in March of 2005. The pianist has appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Vienne Jazz Festival, and North Sea Jazz Festival, and has had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Marsalis, Haque, Curtis Fuller, Benny Golson, Larry Ridley, Ed Thigpen, Frank Wess, Wess Anderson, Kurt Elling, and Carl Allen. Nimmer has a solo CD on the Venus label titled Tea for Two.
As Jazz at Lincoln Center begins its third season in its new home, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Playbill catches up with Nimmer.
Playbill: You're a new addition to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. What's it like playing with them?
Dan Nimmer: It's a great experience. I haven't played a lot in big bands since I was in college, which wasn't too long ago, but I love playing with the big band. That sound, it's a whole different approach than playing with the smaller group. With this big band in particular its really incredible because everybody is at such a high level. They're at the top of their game.
Playbill: What's Wynton like as a bandleader?
Nimmer: Oh, he's great. He's very serious at what he does, but at the same time a lot of fun to work with. He knows what he wants.
Playbill: How did you get the gig?
Nimmer: Wess Anderson recommended me because he heard me at this club in Brooklyn. At that time, there was an opening in the band and Wess gave me a call and said, 'Don't be surprised if you get a call from somebody at Jazz at Lincoln Center.' I went over to Wynton's house around New Year's and played for him. We had a good connection. We had the same kind of views on music.
Playbill: Tell us about your training.
Nimmer: I studied classical piano. At first, I played drums…my father played drums as a hobby. But there was always music in the house. Not necessarily jazz but all kinds of music‹Earth, Wind & Fire; George Benson; like that. We inherited a piano from my aunt. It wasn't a great piano. It was a 100-year-old Hofner. It was out-of-tune. A couple octaves below middle C was kinda like thunder (laughs). Maybe there were some ol' souls in that piano, maybe that's how I got where I am now.
I asked my parents if I could take lessons and my teacher saw in me that I had qualities to improvise. So I went to the Milwaukee Conservatory of Music and studied with Mark Davis. He told me what to listen to. The first day I got there, he wrote down on a sheet of paper five guys I should check out. He said go to the record store and pick out one or two of them to listen to. I picked up an Oscar Peterson record and a Miles Davis record. After that, I just fell in love with the music.
Playbill: Who's your favorite piano player?
Nimmer: That's hard. My first and, still to this day, most influential piano player would have to be Oscar Peterson. I love Wynton Kelly, Art Tatum, Red Garland, there's so many. All those guys that play real swingin' piano. When I put on the Oscar Peterson album for the first time, I'd never heard anything like that. The playing was on such a high level, it kinda freaked me out at first. But then I said, 'Wow! This is what I want to do!'
Playbill: What advice do you have for other young musicians?
Nimmer: Practice. Listen to as much music as you can. Go see as much music as you can. Play with as many musicians as you can who are better than you.
Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director for Public Relations at Jazz at Lincoln Center. For the complete Jazz at Lincoln Center 2006-07 season schedule, visit www.jalc.org.