Roy Nathanson has had a varied career as a saxophonist, composer, bandleader, poet, actor and teacher. After playing with the Lounge Lizards, Charlie Earland and performing in downtown theatre in the 80’s, Nathanson formed the Jazz Passengers with trombonist Curtis Fowlkes. The band has been together for over thirty years, creating a variety of recordings as well various thematic performance pieces. The Passengers worked and toured actively with a variety of vocalists including Elvis Costello and Deborah Harry until the early 2000s. They continue to tour and record occasionally. Their most recent Jazz Passengers cd, “Still Life With Trouble” celebrating 30 years of the band was released in February 2017 on Enja/Yellowbird and Thirsty Ear records.
Since the 2000s Nathanson has broadened the kind of work he started with the Passengers by exploring various text/music combinations starting with his song cycle, “Fire at Keaton’s Bar and Grille” which premiered at St. Ann’s Theatre in the U.S. and at Royal Festival Hall in Europe. He continued these explorations with his band “Sotto Voce,” in the band’s 3 CDS, “Sotto Voce,” “Subway Moon” and “Complicated Day.” In the early 2000s, Nathanson also worked in interdisciplinary forms including composing a variety of film scores as well as writing and performing his semi biographical radio play for NPR, “You’re the Fool.” His most recent collaboration is with the young R and B vocalist Nick Hakim. The recording, “Small things,” in which Nick sings poems from Nathanson’s new poetry book, was fostered by a collaboration with the “Onyx Collective,” a musical and multi-media artists group co-founded by Nathanson’s longtime student, Isaiah Barr. The record will be released in March 2021.
As Nathanson began teaching more, (he founded the music department at the NYC public school Institute for Collaborative Education in 2004) he began concentrating on the craft of poetry writing and published his first book of poetry, “Subway Moon” in 2009 at the same time as the release of the Sotto Voce CD of the same name. Nathanson began combining this work with his teaching and started the non-profit music program “Subway Moon” which continues to create professional/student songwriting collaborations using the Subway as an imaginative theme. This program has produced over 20 professional/student collaborations internationally and continues. His new book of poetry, “Conversations and Other Songs” was recently released on Madhat press. Nathanson has also collaborated on a similar program of “participatory art” organized around the various aspects of the English word “Home,” with the great young French band Papanosh. This collaboration has released two CDs, “Home,” and “Oh Yeah,” which covers music of Charles Mingus. The collaboration tours around the French speaking world.
Since 2013 Nathanson has also returned to working on his saxophone playing and composing craft without using words. His 2016 duo recording “Nearness of You,” his appearance on Russ Johnson’s CD, exploring Eric Dolphy recording “Out to Lunch,” and his collective chamber group Endangered Quartet which will release its first CD, “Heart,” in February 2020 are representative of this instrumental and compositional work.
Nathanson is the recipient of a number of grants including two NYFA Composition Fellowships, several grants from Meet the Composer, a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant and Bessie and Joseph Jefferson theatre awards. The archives of Nathanson’s work was bought by NYU Fales library and are available through the library.
Nathanson currently teaches several classes in text and music at Gallatin College of NYU.