Legacy: A Centennial Celebration of J.J. Johnson
Release Date: April 5, 2024
Label: Outside In Music

Legacy is a joyous centennial celebration of the legendary J.J. Johnson by admired trombonist, composer, educator and label founder Nick Finzer. Known as one of jazz’s most profound luminaries, J.J. Johnson is considered one of the most influential and pioneering trombonists in jazz history. Legacy assembles Johnson’s original band members including pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Lewis Nash, and was recorded at the iconic Rudy Van Gelder studios in Englewood, NJ, where Johnson himself recorded many of his classic albums. Featuring a host of arrangements of Johnson’s compositions, pieces from his regular songbook, and Finzer’s own originals that exemplify Johnson’s distinctive style, Legacy is not merely a tribute album, but stands as a testament to the ever-present and transformative influence Johnson still has today. 

Finzer’s affinity and connection with Johnson runs deep, beginning over twenty years ago when the Rochester-born musician first picked up the trombone. With 2024 marking Johnson’s centennial, Finzer has taken up the mantle not only of highlighting the mastery and lasting impact of Johnson’s playing, but his substantial impact as a prolific arranger, educator, and pioneer within the genre of jazz trombone. Finzer summarizes the importance of Johnson succinctly: “Sometimes it is the nature of our industry to overlook the trombone, but as my mentor, Steve Turre has said many times, ‘J.J. Johnson did for the trombone what Charlie Parker did for the saxophone.’ He was a true innovator of his time, and his innovations have lasted throughout his lifetime and beyond.” 

One of the ways Finzer sought to honor and vitalize the Legacy project was to work with greats who had themselves been staple members of Johnson’s bands. “When I first conceived of wanting to celebrate this milestone of jazz history, I wanted to involve as many alumni of J.J. Johnson’s bands as I could,” Finzer says. “This led me to calling Renee Rosnes, Rufus Reid and Lewis Nash, all of whom were active members of J.J.’s recording and touring groups in the 1980s and 1990s.”

The collaboration between the group on Legacy was profound and relatively unique, as it is multi-generational. Finzer points out the honor and magnitude of such an opportunity to work with living legends who themselves worked with a substantial forerunner who came before them. “It was a new experience for me to develop relationships with jazz legends like these and to work with them on music that holds such a special place in their past,” Finzer says. “It’s amazing being able to experience the level of musicianship of musicians who have played with your heroes, who not only give you respect, but who are dedicated to bringing your musical vision to life, without sacrificing the deep understanding and commitment to the legacy of this music.” With Finzer’s leadership and expertise, coupled with the rhythm trio’s depth of knowledge and experience with Johnson, they brought to life with utmost authenticity the music that makes up his legacy, and the music that pays respect to Johnson’s work.

Legacy features a host of compositions by Johnson, originals by Finzer in the style of Johnson, and a composition by Rosnes that J.J. readily adopted as a staple part of his songbook during his lifetime. Of Johnson’s work, Finzer found that the ballads are some of the most profound musical experiences on the album. In particular, Johnson’s beloved piece “Lament” is highlighted. Finzer’s arrangement preserves the beauty of the original melody, but frames it with new presentations of the main theme and adding interludes to emphasize the emotion of the ballad. “Malaga Moon” is an original by Rosnes that she wrote for Johnson during her time in his band that became a cornerstone of his repertoire during his life. It was first recorded by Johnson with a studio orchestra, and so the band on Legacy adapted the energy and spirit of that recording for quartet. “Johnson’s sound from that recording has been permanently imprinted in my brain,” Finzer says. “It’s a beautiful composition and a wonderful tribute to J.J.’s musicianship. It was very special to be able to play it with the composer, on a project for the person who she wrote it for.” The album also includes, as its second bonus track, an arrangement of the jazz standard “Blue Bossa” that was created by Johnson himself and taught to the band by bassist Rufus Reid from his days touring with the trombone innovator.

The impact and influence of Johnson’s original band members on this album and on Finzer’s creative process is profound, and enabled Legacy to be steeped in nothing short of the legacy the album’s title seeks to evoke. Of the band, Finzer has nothing but praise to give. “Lewis Nash might be the most swinging drummer on the face of the planet, everything that he does brings the perfect balance of energy, swing, and taste!” Finzer says. “It has been an amazing opportunity to be able to work with him and learn from him about J.J. and his legacy as a musician and bandleader.” Finzer acknowledges the generous donation of time and skill of pianist Renee Rosnes in particular, as she has been earning accolades for her own band, Artemis. “Rosnes is extremely melodically inventive, and an amazing accompanist when she isn’t soloing, Finzer boasts. “I can see why J.J. was so fond of having her in the band!” Rufus Reid has been on countless records, many of which were highly influential favorites of Finzer’s as he was a developing musician. “I heard Reid on so many records growing up; it was really amazing to have that sound in the room,” says Finzer. “Having the sound that he brings to J.J.‘s rhythm section on some of his later recordings, and to be playing with it live was just incredible.”

With Legacy, Nick Finzer has successfully demonstrated his depth of understanding of and respect for the tradition and history of jazz and its masters. By encapsulating J.J. Johnson’s spirit through monuments to both his compositional mark and testaments to his influence over the continuation of jazz composers and performers, Legacy shows that what has passed in jazz past will remain present and powerful into the future.


Dreams, Visions, Illusions
Release Date: April 14, 2023
Label: Outside In Music

Trombonist, composer, arranger, producer and Outside In Music label founder Nick Finzer presents his new sextet album Dreams, Visions, Illusions.

A follow-up to his 2021 album Out of Focus and spiritual successor to his 2020 sextet recording CharactersDreams, Visions, Illusions represents the ultimate expression of his long-running sextet, which features tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Lucas Pino, guitarist Alex Wintz, pianist Glenn Zalenski, bassist Dave Baron and drummer Jimmy Macbride.

The inspired album was the result of a New Jazz Works grant courtesy of Chamber Music America, an American not-for-profit that provides a variety of resources to small-ensemble practitioners. The program is funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which directly supports the performing arts via generous grants.

“It had been a goal of mine for a long time to get that particular grant; I’d written five records’ worth of music beforehand and tried with all those different ones to try to get the grant,” Finzer says. Happily, the trombonist succeeded, and pledged to push his sextet format to find new inspirations.

Running with the creative possibilities as bestowed by this boon, Finzer crafted a thematically and psychologically penetrating work — one that explores the role of the muse in creative inspiration. As per Dreams, Visions, Illusions’ title, Finzer trisected this concept and shone it through the lens of creative and professional labor.

“At one point, it’s just a Dream — a thing you think maybe you can do,” he says. “And that’s the Visions part: ‘You’re playing with people; you’re getting closer.” As for Illusions: “There’s a circular nature to the journey.”

To Finzer, there’s a spiritual escape route from this 24/7 hustle — one that just about every NYC jazz musician is intimately familiar with. “I’m trying to aspire to that — some days succeeding, and some days failing,” Finzer says with a laugh, coming to terms with his overall career arc. “It took me a long time to get to the realization of what this particular life can be.”

Dreams, Visions, Illusions’ searching opener, “To Dream a Bigger Dream” is a call to move past the entrapments of capitalism’s unscratchable itch.

“As anyone who grew up in the 1990’s might remember, the overwhelming narrative of society was one of achievement — what college could you get into, what dream career would you pursue, and what was your purpose in life?” Finzer explains. “How could you fulfill that purpose through a meaningful relationship with your career?”

In A Love Supreme terms, “Aspirations and Convictions” is something of a “Resolution” to the opener’s “Acknowledgement.” “When you set out on your romanticized journey, you aspire to overcome, despite the world telling you not to do it,” Finzer says. “Your dreams cloud your mind’s clarity and you’re passionate about your mission, so why wouldn’t it happen?”

Finzer meant the introspective “Follow Your Heart” as something of a deconstruction of the titular cliché: “This track explores the dichotomy of these choice making moments in our lives… the journey of making those decisions is tumultuous, but then you just have to jump.”

The ambling “I Thought I Should Take The Road Less Traveled” faces down the difficult choices each creative person must face. “When considering which way to go in life, we often heed the advice of those who have come before,” Finzer explains. “But when there are no role models left, where do we turn?”

But I Did What They Said” pursues an “edgier energy” and “snarky attitude.” “[It’s] about doing what you were told to do,” Finzer says, “but things don’t always work out for the rule followers.” The counterweight is the following track, “To the ‘Top,’” which reflects “good news and good experiences along the way.”

This Campbellian journey reaches its emotional apoetheosis with the seemingly weightless “Vision or Mirage?,” which Finzer highlights for its luminous piano part from Zalenski. “This one embodies to me, the feeling when you realize you might have been wrong,” Finzer says. “You might not be able to tell the difference between what you think is real and what the rest of the world feels is real.”

The trickling “Waking Up” is a call for clear-eyed perception among the noise. “Just because we want something to be a certain way, does not mean it is that way, or that you can change it to be so,” the trombonist admits. “Some things just are the way they are.”

Dreams, Visions, Illusions concludes with the percolating “Now, Then and When.” Notable for its Kenny Garrett-esque groove, the track sends the listener off on an optimistic note. “[I’m] trying to remember that the muse that set us off on our path in the first place just wanted us to make music,” Finzer says.

Few jazz albums turn inward and question the emotional landscape of professional music-making. Finzer, a celebrated musician and label owner in equal measure, is more acutely aware of this perpetual, often thankless grind — the good, bad and ugly parts — than most.

And come April 14, there’s a better way — and a clearer looking-glass into the creative soul.

Dreams, Visions, Illusions by Nick Finzer and Hear & Now has been made possible with support from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program funded through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.


for Legacy

PRESTON FRAZIER
SOMETHING ELSE REVIEWS 
"a series of thrilling performances of Johnson compositions, his own originals and songs from Johnson’s songbook, all captured at the Rudy Van Gelder studio." Check out the full review here.

JIM HYNES
MAKING A SCENE
"Finzer and his quartet mates not only pay deep respect to JJ Johnson; they deliver a flawless recording to boot." Check out the full review here.

PIERRE GIROUX
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"The album is a salute to tradition, innovation and the timeless magic of music." Full review here.

THIERRY DE CLEMENSAT
PARIS MOVE
"With Finzer’s leadership and expertise, combined with the depth of knowledge and experience of the rhythm trio with Johnson, they brought to life both the music that constitutes his legacy and the music that pays tribute to Johnson’s work." Check out the full review here.

MORGAN ENOS
LONDON JAZZ NEWS
Check out this insightful interview here.

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
One of "10 Albums You Need To Know This Month" - Read more here.

TURGAY YALCIN
DARK BLUE NOTES
"A beautiful bop album that properly honors the revolutionary name of jazz trombone in the centenary year of its birth and proves the timelessness of the tradition." Check out the full review here.

MIKE GREENBLATT
THE JERSEY SOUND
"Rufus Reid Shines On New Nick Finzer Album" - Check out the full piece here.

RON NETSKY
CITY MAGAZINE 
"With every solo, Finzer proves he is an heir to Johnson’s trombone prowess." Check out the full review here.

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
Check out this feature on the editor's playlist here.

DEE DEE McNEIL
MAKING A SCENE
"Every song on this album is well-played and musically delightful." Check out the full review here.

EDITOR
ABC LISTEN
"The album Legacy: A Centennial Celebration of J.J. Johnson is just that - a fresh musical retrospective of one of the true greats." Check out the full review here.

TOM HENRY
TOLEDO BLADE
"I’m particularly fond of the group’s rendition of a Johnson classic, “Lament,” as I’m sure Finzer is, too. It’s a wonderful ballad that sticks with you." Check out the full review here.

for Dreams, Vision, Illusion

FILIPE FREITAS
JAZZ TRAIL
"American trombonist Nick Finzer is known for bringing passionate lyricism and keen harmonic excursions to his compositional style." Full review here.

PRESTON FRAZIER
SLANG OF AGES
"The resulting album sounds like a band that has been playing together forever." Read the full album review here.

STEPHEN GRAHAM
MARLBANK
“Finzer is drawn to elaborate on melodic phraseology..” Read the review here.

RUSSELL TRUNK
EXCLUSIVE MAGAZINE
Read the album announcement here.

JEREMY SMITH
LAST ROW MUSIC
Read the album announcement here.

PRESTON FRAZIER
SOMETHING ELSE! REVIEWS
“The composer, educator, band leader and trombonist continues to deliver engaging compositions which challenge both the players and his listeners.” Read the review here and read the featured interview here.

JIM HYNES
MAKING A SCENE
"You’ll rarely encounter an album that explores the thought process and various emotional/mental phases of making music." Read the review here.

LANCE LIDDLE
BEBOP SPOKEN HERE
“..Finzer is one of the best jazz trombone players that I've heard on the current scene..” Read the review here.

MICHAEL TOLAND
THE BIG TAKEOVER
“Finzer’s longtime sextet shifts from point to point with graceful ease, and the leader himself shines with smooth riffs and tasteful solos.” Read the complete review here.

DAVID EDWARDS
THE BLURB
Featured in New Music roundup here.

GEORGE KANZLER
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"Nick Finzer has produced a surprisingly original and adventurous album here as a jazz auteur." Read the full review in the May 2023 issue here.

LEONID AUSKERN
JAZZ QUAD
Read the review in Russian here.

NIGEL JARRETT
JAZZ JOURNAL
"Not all questions, musical ones in particular, are guaranteed to have answers, but Finzer & Co. show how jazz can at least be a repository for collective communing." Review here.

PAT YOUNGSPIEL
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Here's tension and relief, intrigue and reassurance, friction and harmony and, most importantly, much creativity to be discovered." Full review here.

BILL MILKOWSKI
DOWNBEAT
"Finzer leads the way on 10 thoughtful originals that alternately swing fervently and conjure up intimate, expressive moods." Read the 4.5 star review here.

RON NETSKY
CITY MAGAZINE
"Finzer’s titles provide a strong indication of what he’s thinking about while composing." View full review here.

DEE DEE McNEIL
MUSICAL MEMOIRS
"It’s got one of those melodies that makes you want to hum along." View full review here.

TOM HAUGEN
TAKE EFFECT
"The trombone extraordinaire Nick Finzer is surrounded by some esteemed talent for these 10 creative jazz tunes that never sit in one place for very long." View the full review here.

D. OSCAR GROOMES
O'S PLACE JAZZ MAGAZINE
Trombonist, composer Nick Finzer leads a sextet over ten selections divided into Dreams, Visions & Illusions. The band includes Lucas Pino (t-sax, b-cl), Alex Wintz (g), Glenn Zaleski (p), Dave Boston (b), and Jimmy MacBride (d). The resulting music is mostly reflective. We liked the spirited “Follow Your Heart”, “Now, Then, and When”, and bubbly “I Thought I Should Take The Road Less Traveled” (or as written on the jewel case, I thought I took the road…). Otherwise, it’s as nebulous as the title suggests.

BLAIR INGENTHORN
BROADWAY WORLD
Award winning composer, arranger, producer, educator and trombonist Nick Finzer is one of the most dynamic musicians of the millennial generation." Check out this awesome review here.

PRESTON FRAZIER
SOMETHING ELSE REVIEWS
"Each of its three segments is a powerful statement which adds to the cohesiveness of the project." Check out this awesome review here.

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