Nat Pierce

Nat Pierce had a long, distinguished, somewhat low-profile career as a champion of latter-day big-band swing, serving as the co-leader of Los Angeles' crack Frank Capp-Nat Pierce Juggernaut and an arranger for several well-known big bands and solo artists. His scores created an irresistible force when allied with a swinging, pushing drummer like Capp, often hewing tightly to the loping drive and tight ensemble of the post-1950s Count Basie orchestra. Likewise, Pierce's spare, tasty piano style not only has been compared to that of Basie, he also subbed very capably — indeed, almost indistinguishably — for the great man off and on from the late 1950s until Basie's death in 1984.

Pierce studied music at the New England Conservatory of Music back home in Massachusetts, worked with local Boston bands, and ran his own part-time big band featuring Charlie Mariano from 1949 to 1951. Having already started shopping arrangements to Basie and Woody Herman, he joined Herman's Third Herd in 1951 as pianist/arranger, remaining until 1955. Afterwards, Pierce settled in New York City, where he became a busy freelance arranger, recording pianist, and occasional leader of bands, working with Ruby Braff, Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Pee Wee Russell and Lester Young. Two of his most famous projects took place in 1957 — writing the arrangements for The Sound of Jazz television show, and playing piano with the Basie rhythm section on the first ear-opening Lambert, Hendricks and Ross album, Sing a Song of Basie

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_______________The Birth of Juggernaut_____________________

Capp then went back to the owner of King Arthur’s. “I said, ‘Neal is throwing the band away.’ So he said, ‘Well, I need a band for that night. Have you got any suggestions?’,” he continued. “And I said, ‘Yeah, it just so happens I’ve got a lot of Neal Hefti arrangements and Nat Pierce has got a lot of Count Basie arrangements. We’ll put a band together for one night and do a concert for you.’ And that was the beginning of the Juggernaut. We just called it the Capp-Pierce Orchestra and after we made our first album, Concord Records tagged us with the name ‘Juggernaut.’ Because Leonard Feather, the critic and writer, reviewed our band because we had continued out there at King Arthur’s and his first review said something like ‘a Juggernaut on Basie Street.’ And so Carl Jefferson from Concord liked that term so he christened us the ‘Juggernaut’ and it’s been our name ever since.

Nat Pierce speaking about “Woody Herman”

The band I had in Boston, with the double-time trumpet figures and everything, was kinda patterned after Woody’s band at the time

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