Big improvements are coming to the downtown Phoenix jazz scene.

The Nash Jazz Club and Jazz in Arizona have announced a $2.5 million expansion of the club’s facilities, including the creation of a 3,200-square-foot John Dawson Center for Jazz Education at The Nash, with construction beginning in May.

The expansion was funded in part by a $1 million gift from the John Dawson Foundation, the largest one-time gift the nonprofit has ever received.

In addition to the education center, the $2.5 million project will include extensive renovations to the Nash Jazz Club at 110 N. Roosevelt St., including a new stage and green room; more relaxed seating, including banquettes, booths and bar seating; a full bar; and enhanced food offerings and restroom facilities.

“All of these things together, we hope, will allow us to really flourish as the cultural hub for jazz here in the Southwest,” says Naquana Borrero, the Nash’s director of development and communications.

“We want to make sure that we’re keeping up with the times. We don’t want to be irrelevant. We want to be progressive. We’re making this gumbo, right? And we’re just adding our ingredients.”

John Dawson Foundation’s ‘transformational gift to the Nash’

The Dawson Education Center will be just north of the Nash, across the parking lot at 1014 N. Second St., creating a comprehensive complex for jazz performance and musician training on Roosevelt Row in the heart of downtown Phoenix.

“We are thrilled to be making this transformational gift to The Nash, allowing them to expand their thriving jazz education program,” Dave Lunt, president of the John Dawson Foundation, says.

“Mr. Dawson was a lifelong supporter of jazz music, featuring it prominently for more than four decades at his Scottsdale Plaza Resort and Remington’s, as well as directly supporting Jazz in AZ. We look forward to his legacy being carried on through the John Dawson Center for Jazz Education at the Nash.”

All education programming will move into the center once it opens.

The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, a longtime supporter of the Nash, is supporting the project with a $100,000 gift toward the education center and a challenge grant that will match donations toward the remodel of the jazz club up to $100,000.

What to expect at the John Dawson Center for Jazz Education

The John Dawson Center for Jazz Education will have 1,800 square feet of rehearsal space.

This includes a 900-square-foot hall to accommodate groups such as big band ensembles, as well as two 450-square-foot spaces for combo and ensemble instruction and rehearsal.

The center will expand the organization’s educational programming capacity by 50%. Student performances will continue to be held in the Nash Jazz Club.

“It really is transformative for us to be able to respond to the growing education program that we have,” Borrero says. “We’ve tripled the size of our program in the last couple years, since getting our director of education, Dr. Clark Gibson.”

The Nash started a summer camp for jazz on the campus of the Arizona School for the Arts in 2023.

“Last year, it had about 80-83 kids,” Borrero says. “This year, we anticipate about 150 kids. So there’s really a need in the Valley for additional jazz education. And this will be our way to really meet that need.”

How the $1 million gift to the Nash came about

This expansion is part of a strategic plan that started with the Nash participating in the ATLAS program offered by the Piper Trust.

Designed to increase the operational capacity and organizational resilience of select Maricopa County nonprofits, the program allowed the Nash to hire Borrero and Gibson in 2022.

“Once Clark and I were on staff full time, we’ve had a lot of brainstorming about expansion and what we can do with the new capacity that the organization had,” Borrero says. “We knew that if the programming expanded, we would always need additional facilities.”

Among the options they considered was relocating the Nash. But then, the building just across the parking lot became an option.

The Nash and the Dawson Foundation had already been discussing ways for the foundation to invest more deeply in the Nash.

“So when the time came that we had a potential place that we could move, they were ready to go ahead and support that,” Borrero says. “It just was really one of those great things where opportunity and preparation met at the right intersection for us to be able to do it.”

What a separate education center will mean for the Nash

Right now, the Nash has one rehearsal room and seven ensembles that rehearse there year-round. That means student ensembles are frequently using the main room of the Nash as a rehearsal room on weeknights.

“That really is a hindrance to us, as far as being able to bring in additional revenue, because we could be having more shows, we could be facilitating local artists, we could be doing all sorts of things that help us to be a cultural hub for jazz in the Valley,” Borrero says.

“But we have rehearsals there for the kids. So, for us, it was really about making sure that we can grow with the need without having that interfere with our ability to bring additional jazz performances, because that is a significant part of our mission, and also for earned revenue.”

In the new building, multiple groups can rehearse at the same while the main building is hosting concerts.

The expansion also makes additional recording space available for students.

“We have a lot of students who are moving through high school, wanting to pursue music in higher education, and they’ve got to record auditions,” Borrero says.

“This gives us the space to be able to do that and to also be really innovative about some new programming so that we can fuse the worlds of music and technology.

“Any high-level performing artist right now has to have a certain level of technical mastery in order to get their music out. So we want to make sure our kids are well versed in that as well. And this allows us to do that.”

Why jazz education is so important for young students

Music education is a key part of the Nash’s mission statement.

“The last statistic I saw was that about 40 to 43% of schools in Arizona have a full-time music program for the kids,” Borrero says.

“So, first and foremost, it’s important to us because there are so many kids who aren’t getting music education at all, let alone jazz. But in particular, jazz is important because it’s the first American art form when it comes to music.” And when kids learn jazz, she says, they’re not just learning jazz.

“What they learn in jazz — collaboration, improvisation — these are transferable skills for students that they can apply in a lot of different places in their life,” Borrero says.

“We always say in jazz, it’s great because you’re gonna learn how to lead, you’re gonna learn how to follow, you’re gonna learn that everybody gets a chance to shine, you’re gonna learn to work together. And we think that that’s a necessary set of skills for students today.”

See the Legendary Count Basie Orchestra at Bash for the Nash

The project will officially be unveiled at the annual Bash for the Nash on Saturday, Feb. 24. It will feature the Legendary Count Basie Orchestra at the Madison Center for the Arts, 5601 N. 16th St., Phoenix.

Commemorating the centennial of Sarah Vaughan, the orchestra will be joined by guest vocalist Carmen Bradford, who was discovered by Count Basie and has performed with the orchestra since 1983.

The event includes a VIP preconcert experience, with hors d’oeuvres, a hosted bar, auction and talk with Bradford, Basie orchestra director Scotty Barnhart and Nash namesake and renowned jazz drummer Lewis Nash.

VIP tickets cost $250. Concert-only tickets begin at $59. Student rates are available. Funds raised from Bash for the Nash will support the Nash education programs.

“The Nash opened in 2012 as a venue to bring the community together to enjoy and learn about the amazing music that uniquely reflects the American experience,” Joel Goldenthal, executive director of the Nash, says.

“The renovation of the Nash performance space, in tandem with the opening of the John Dawson Center for Jazz Education, will make our nonprofit venue more inviting to our multigenerational audiences and become a beacon for asserting jazz in the cultural landscape of our city.”

The Bash for the Nash with Legendary Count Basie Orchestra

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24.

Where: Madison Center for the Arts, 5601 N. 16th St., Phoenix.

Admission: $59 and up.

Details: 602-795-0464,

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-4495. Follow him on Twitter @EdMasley.

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