Oliver Edward Nelson, Jr.
Oliver Nelson, a jazz and classical flutist, teacher, and lecturer, is enjoying a successful career, playing in significant venues with a whoís who in jazz legends. A fourth generation musician and the son of an internationally acclaimed composer, arranger, and jazz saxophonist, he is upholding the family tradition of excellence in the highly competitive field of modern jazz performance.
Oliver was born in and spent the first decade of his life in St. Louis, Missouri, the only son of Oliver Edward, Sr., and Eileen Mitchell Nelson. His mother was hired to teach at Pine Forge Academy in Pennsylvania when he was ten, and he would attend grade school there from fifth grade through his high school years at the academy, where he graduated in 1973. He attended the academy at Andrews University during his junior year while his mother pursued a second masterís degree.
Oliver had begun piano lessons at age seven and then saxophone at age nine. Inspired by the playing of legendary jazz flutist Hubert Laws who had recorded albums with his father, He started flute at age eleven, taking lessons from Pamela Guidetti, a teacher at nearby West Chester State College, now West Chester University. In 1973 he enrolled at Andrews University as a music major with saxophone and flute as his performance areas, studying with Lennart Olson, whom he remembers as an inspiring teacher and friend.
Oliverís father was in demand as an arranger for recording artists James Brown, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, The Temptations, and Diana Ross and composer and arranger for popular 1970s television shows, including It Takes a Thief, Ironsides, The Virginians, Columbo, and The Six Million Dollar Man. He also arranged music written by Gato Barbieri for the movie Last Tango in Paris. These were highly productive years in composing and arranging for him as well as in performance, in which he had earlier developed a formidable reputation as a soloist.††
After serving in the Marines, the senior Nelson had completed undergraduate and graduate degrees, and he was committed to underwriting the expense for Oliverís and a younger sonís education.† It was while meeting the demands in 1975 of producing an episode of the Six Million Dollar Man that had led to a 36-hour session without break that he collapsed and died, at age 43.† Oliver, who was midway through his program at AU, recently recalled an event shortly before his fatherís death, the trauma of hearing about his death, and an experience he had in honoring his father 22 years later:
I had a chance to play with my father when he returned to his alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, to play a concert in 1975, before he died.† I was at AU and playing mostly saxophone and was in attendance when he called me up on stage to play with him and some high powered LA musicians he had brought with him. It was a big thrill. Six weeks later in late October I had just got a job working in the cafeteria at Andrews and had just started when somebody came over to where I was working and told me that he had died.† I was devastated.
David Baker, Distinguished Professor of Jazz Studies at Indiana University for many years and director of the Smithsonian Masterworks Jazz Orchestra, is a former teacher and a very good friend of mine.† In 1997 he invited me to join with him and musicians who had known and played with my father to do a program of my dadís music called Blues and the Abstract Truth: The Music of Oliver Nelson Live at Lincoln Theatre, Washington, D.C.
I played in some of the numbers with the orchestra and also did some live interviews.† They later played the program on National Public Radio several times. They gave me the marquee following the program and I now have it in my living room. It was a highlight of my musical life. I am now working on a tribute CD for my dad and the artists on the recording will include Benny Golson, James Williams, Grady Tate, Bob Crenshaw, and Bela Fleck.
Nelson completed a B.Mus. in education at AU in 1977 and in 1997 completed a master's degree in performance at Butler University, where he studied with Karen Moratz, principal flutist in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Starting in the fall of 2011, he enrolled as a doctoral student in jazz performance in flute, the only flutist in the jazz program, at the University of Illinois, where he will complete required course work at the end of this academic year.
More recently, Nelson performed with New York Metropolitan soprano Angela Brown on her 2006 PBS presentation, A Holiday Homecoming with Angela Brown. In 2009, 2010, and 2011 he participated as a conductor and featured performer at the Savannah Jazz Festival, playing some of his fatherís compositions, assisted by organist Doug Carn. He also participates frequently in other jazzĖrelated events. In September of this year he performed in the Allerton Music Barn Festival in Illinois, where a tribute program for his father was given by the University of Illinois jazz faculty.
Nelson frequently performs with his jazz quartet and woodwind trio and in the Combrio Duo with Donna Clark, a viola performer. He has conducted numerous workshops and clinics and performs often in jazz ensembles. He recently talked about a surprise visit in the mid-2000s by famed Wynton Marsalis when Nelson was playing in a small cafť with some of his friends.
Marsalis was in Indianapolis playing in a major venue, and we were playing in a small jazz club called the Chatterbox, aptly named since those who came never stopped talking even when the musicians were playing.† We were performing and Marsalis and his saxophone player, Wes Anderson, unexpectedly dropped in.† It suddenly got so quiet you could have heard a pin drop! They sat in with our band for a whole set and we had a really great time - it was one of the most memorable moments in my musical life!
Nelson is married to Sharon Anderson, a fellow student he met at AU.† They have three children, Oliver Edward III, Elliot, and Alenda.
Sources: Interview with Oliver Edward Nelson, Jr., 27 November 2012 and review of biography, 16 January 2013; Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians at Jazz.com; Smithsonian Institute and other related websites; program biography of the 2009 the Savannah Festival in Forsythe Park in Savannah, Georgia, 26 September 2009;††