Nathaniel Pierce Blish Jr: born July 16, 1925 in Somerville, MA; died June 10, 1992 in Los Angeles
Although he was a fine pianist and an accomplished arranger, Nat Pierce is best remembered for his work with big bands. There was his own Boston-based orchestra in the late 1940s, his long association with Woody Herman, and his late-career powerhouse, Juggernaut, which he co-led with drummer Frank Capp.
Perhaps the best way to describe Pierce is to quote others who knew him, personally and professionally. Here are excerpts from the liner notes of the HEP Jazz reissue of the Nat Pierce Orchestra’s 1961 album, The Ballad of Jazz Street.
It’s hard to separate the man from his music. His playing was a mirror of his personality—warm and open. Nat’s chords provided a solid base from which anyone could feel free to go anywhere and still have a way back.
--Trumpeter Dick Collins
Nat was one of my earliest and strongest musical influences. While a student at Harvard in 1949, I would cut classes and go to the Mardi Gras club in Boston, where Nat rehearsed. I listened carefully to his writing and the jazz playing of Charlie Mariano. After Nat left Boston to go on the road, I formed my first band in 1952 using some of his guys. My musical career would not have gone in the direction that it did without my relationship with Nat and the players in his early Boston band.
--Trumpeter, Bandleader, Educator Herb Pomeroy
I miss my friend, Nat Pierce. He won’t be calling me anymore at 4 a.m. and start our conversation with ’Eddie, my man.’ I won’t hear that wonderful piano again, the simple lines when he imitated his mentor/idol Count Basie, or when he played like himself, the wonderfully innovative pianist, Nat Pierce. There won’t be any more swinging big band arrangements for Woody [Herman], Basie and others. We won’t be hanging out anymore, drinking and talking the night through. And we won’t hug again. I’m sure he said when it was time to go, “This is really deep, really deep, Eddie.” I miss my old friend Nat Pierce.
--Bassist Eddie Jones
Nat Pierce, 1954 (Photo by Wolfgang Oster)