The Nate Man 

A musician talks about the VCU grad who helped “Birdman” swing.

Grammy-nominated tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman and his band, James Farm, are scheduled to play grooves at Maymont that’ll tickle your feet and your cerebellum. Eric Harland is the outfit’s usual drummer, but in Richmond you’ll see a Virginia Commonwealth University grad and Virginia native on the skins: Nate Smith.

Smith has attracted fame, too — but in a stranger way. He’s on-camera during the all-drums soundtrack for the film “Birdman,” which won the Academy Award for best picture this year. The film’s composer, Antonio Sanchez, had to watch Smith to learn what transitional parts to play. To the surprise of many, the visceral soundtrack was eventually declared too unorthodox for Oscar consideration, but it’s sold well.

From his home in California, Joshua Redman had this to say about the upcoming concert with Smith.

Style: So Nate Smith will be your drummer at the Jazz Fest, not Eric Harland. What can we expect?

Redman: There are a lot of great drummers in jazz today, and great grooves can’t be taught. Whether I’m playing swing or funk, I want their sound to make me feel like dancing. Playing with Nate is a physical thing. I feel it in my body.

Smith can definitely hold his own, given his work for “Birdman.” Do you ever worry about his overpowering the band?

Drums drive our band, but there’s always a risk of them overwhelming the band, of taking over. Rhythm is important to me. I’m a very interactive player. Nate really hears everything that’s happening. He’s a composer, you know. He’s got real sensibility at the song level. No matter how complex it sounds, he’s helping us perform songs.

But James Farm is definitely still jazz, right, not pop music?

James Farm is difficult. On us and on listeners. We’re not playing smooth jazz. It’s not like a party. The melodies are strong, though, and Nate is very groove-oriented. You can expect us to give it our all. We’re jazz musicians — we live in the moment.


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