PLAYS IN PORTLAND
Aug. 24, Jimmy Mak's,
Felice Nero still scoffs at the notion that her son didn't make first chair trombone at Vancouver's Evergreen High School.
To Javier Nero, it isn't such a big deal. The 20-year-old musician is entering his third year of study on scholarship at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City. He's won the Downbeat Magazine Student music award for arranging; has performed at the 50th and 51st Monterey Jazz Festivals, as well as with some of the world's top jazz performers. His list of accomplishments could go on.
None of his other former high school band mates can say the same. So no, for Nero, his lack of a first chair doesn't bother him. Right now, Nero says his fellow Juilliard students are the point of contention.
"They're too sensitive about being competitive," he told The Skanner News at his family home in Portland. "That's what I need to get better."
Nero is one of only 4 trombone players out of 37 students in the entire program. He is currently on summer vacation and will be performing two shows in Portland before returning to New York. On Aug. 24 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. he will perform at Jimmy Mak's with bassist Tim Gilson and Allen Jones on drums (cover is $3); and on Aug. 30, he will perform with a septet at Mississippi Pizza from 8 to 9:30 p.m. (cover is $5).
"He was very shy," says mother Felice Nero. "So I said to my husband, let's get him an instrument."
Many members of the Nero family are musically inclined. Javier's brother is a hip hop performer in Seattle and several other extended family members also play professionally. So finding a musical outlet for the young Javier was natural. He had started out in the sixth grade on drums, which was a short-lived endeavor.
Felice then found an old trombone at a yard sale for 65 dollars.
"My mom found that and made me switch," he says. "I kind of didn't want to be in band. I didn't care at the time."
A group of close friends encouraged him to stay in band, and to this day, Javier still owns that trombone, even though he plays a much nicer instrument now.
He was personally recruited to try out for Juilliard after an official from the school heard him play. Originally, Javier had decided not to apply for the renowned school due to the number of songs they required prospective students to memorize. He simply didn't have the time.
But the committee allowed him to play songs already in his repertoire, which secured his seat with five other students from across the country.
Javier's also expanded his interest to arranging and composing, and won awards for the work. Javier knows he's got to be well-prepared for life after school.
If the Juilliard School doesn't keep him competitive enough – anything below a B minus gets a student on academic probation – having to make a living in the real world will.
"We have more conservatories in jazz and not really that much of a demand," he says.
But after playing with jazz greats Christain McBride, Branford Marsalis, Benny Golson and many others while at Juilliard, he says he's more confident than ever about a professional career.
"Sometimes it's humbling and sometimes I think, 'I can make it,'" he says of the pros. "Sometimes, they really can't play as great as everyone says they can."
So far, he hasn't been able to make much of a living on the streets of the Big Apple. A few big bands call him for gigs and he's done a few of his own, but largely, the professional jazz circuit in the city is a series of late night jams, with many starting after 2 a.m.
"There's always a lot of musicians waiting around to play," he said.
With his studies, he said it's not possible to attend enough sessions to get known by the insiders who arrange the jams. Practicing for his school assignments – and college social life — keep the young man more than busy.
"I haven't figured out a good balance," he says. "There are so many distractions. It can be really hard to stay focused."
Watch The Skanner News Video of Javier Nero play a piece by John Coltrane at The Skanner News YouTube Channel.