Bowling Green to Birdland

A look into the life of a rising New York City-based Jazz Musician

Suhana Jagadesan

From gracing the subway platform at Bowling Green for a 7 a.m. performance to playing a set on the well-revered stage at Birdland Jazz Club, 25-year-old jazz musician Nathan Bellott has had his fair share of memorable––and eccentric––performances.

“I once sang at Carnegie Hall with a Hungarian pop star called Havasi,” said Bellott. “This guy was taking his act on the road, but it wasn’t economically viable for him to get a choir from Hungary if they could use local people. He had an orchestra, choir, and a small rock band, and they rented Carnegie Hall out to put on this three-hour production.”

The best part about the experience?

“I’m not a singer,” said the New York City-based musician, laughing. “Yes, I sang in high school, but I don’t consider myself a singer at all.”

Bellott, best known for playing the alto saxophone, is also well-trained in the soprano saxophone, flute, and clarinet.

His connections to other musicians have sparked some of his most memorable performances.

“The performance that meant the most to me was COTA, which was this past summer in the Poconos,” said Bellott. “For the past couple years I’d been playing with jazz master Hal Galper, who was a teacher of mine at SUNY Purchase back in 2010 before I started at the New School. A few years ago he wanted to start a new band so he called of us and put it together.” Galper a jazz pianist, now nearly 80 years old, had previously played with the highly acclaimed Phil Woods quintet.

“The festival was a tribute to Phil and had all these people who had worked with him including Hal, so there was an amazing generational aspect to it,” continued Bellott.

As a freelance artist, Bellott recently played with the Liberté Big Band, an unconventional 7 a.m. performance in front of the Bowling Green Subway Station.

“We played a pop-up show and had a full audience of a weird mix of people. Even though they didn’t understand what was going on, people told us that it really brightened their day,” said Bellott.

The band was formed by Liberté-Anne Lymberiou in 2013, who is currently based in Montreal.

“Liberté plays the piano and writes all the music. Due to extenuating circumstances, she leads the band from Montreal and coordinates everything from afar,” continued Bellott.

Despite the occasional 7 a.m. performance, Bellott considers jazz a primarily nocturnal profession.

“There are jam sessions that start at 1:30 in the morning. When I first moved to NYC we would go out to jam sessions and get back at like 6 in the morning,” said Bellott.

To Bellott, these casual and impromptu jam sessions represent a larger concept behind being a musician.

“When you’re home at practicing, only you hear yourself play,” said Bellott. “The thing that plagues a lot of musicians is that they stay home, and they don’t play outside. There’s no replacement for going out and meeting people. It’s so important to being a musician.

With the rise and institutionalization of jazz education, Bellott emphasizes professionalism to stand out in such a saturated profession.

“I’m professional about things like being on time and being reliable. People will shoot themselves in the foot by forgetting about those things. As far as networking, I’ll see musicians I respect, and try to pick their brain about things,” said Bellott.

For Bellott, nothing beats hard work.

“One of my mentors, David Binney, is such a self-made man. He moved here straight after high school in the early 80s, and now he’s on top the jazz world,” said Bellott. “I learned that he worked hard at a day job for years before he was able to make a living from music.”

Yet Bellott can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I can’t overstate the connection aspect of being a musician,” said Bellott. “You have to know where to be and when to be there and how to talk to people. There’s actually a lot of non-musical things that go into being a musician. It’s not easy, but it’s the most rewarding thing I could be doing.”

Find Bellott and explore his work at nathanbellott.com or soundcloud.com/nathanbellott. See his most recent work at Williamsburg Music Center here.