Las Vegas Sun

September 27, 2022

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Trombonist to the stars


Steve Marcus

Trombonist Nathan Tanouye, standing in the Eldorado dry lake bed in Boulder City, has no shortage of local gigs, the Bette Midler and Donny & Marie shows among them, and says Las Vegas is “better than a lot of other cities in terms of gigs.” He began working during his first year as a UNLV student, playing with the Caesars Palace orchestra.

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Name: Nathan Tanouye, trombonist, arranger, composer

Age: 34

Education: Bachelor’s in performance, UNLV

Gigs: Trombonist and arranger with Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns, principal trombonist with the Las Vegas Philharmonic, director of the Las Vegas Jazz Connection, trombonist with the Donny & Marie and Bette Midler shows.

Learning trombone: Tanouye was 10 when his dad brought home a trombone he had bought for him at a garage sale. Never having played the instrument, Tanouye’s first concern was that he wouldn’t have enough “air.”

The gift wasn’t completely out of the blue. His dad, an oboist, was a high school band director and led the pep band at football games. Tanouye always sat next to the trombones at those games, so when someone casually asked him what instrument he might play, the answer was trombone.

His dad taught him scales and melodies, but Tanouye wasn’t completely sold on the trombone until the next year when he joined band, realized how bad he was and vowed to practice an hour every day.

Getting to Vegas: While a music student at the University of Hawaii, he played a jazz festival, was approached by representatives of UNLV and the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and was offered scholarships to both schools. He went with his gut, moved here and earned a double performance degree in classical trombone and jazz studies. He’s married to flutist Bonnie Buhler-Tanouye. They have three sons.

Playing Vegas: Tanouye knew back in eighth grade that he wanted to play trombone. It was either that or become an airline pilot. The decision proved fruitful. He was working gigs on the Strip his first year in Las Vegas as a UNLV student, playing with the Caesars Palace orchestra. His first big concert with that house band was playing with Chicago. He was only 21. “It was kind of surreal. Once I got over my initial nerves, I had a lot of fun.” He went on to play for Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, the Temptations, Steve & Eydie and others. He’s been a freelance trombonist since and is a prolific composer and arranger. He performs in the Donny & Marie show five nights a week and with Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns on Mondays at the Palms, and Saturdays at Palace Station. When Bette Midler’s show resumes this month, he will take a break from Donny & Marie to join that show.

Russ Freeman: While performing a big band gig at a local bar, Tanouye brought in one of his own compositions, a ballad named “Coming Home.” The band leader agreed to play it.

Carolyn Freeman, wife of the late jazz pianist Russell Freeman, happened to be in the audience, liked what she heard and approached Tanouye during a set break to see if he might like to arrange one of her husband’s songs. That led to Tanouye’s “Crossings: The Russ Freeman Project.”

“It’s been one of the highlights of my career,” he says. “Carolyn gave me something a lot of people want — total artistic freedom.”

Making a living: “I’ve had the belief that I’m going to be taken care of. Somehow I’ll find something or something will find me. You don’t have control over a lot of things but you do have control over your thoughts. As long as you stay focused on your craft, stay positive, then success will find you.”

Music scene: “It’s good. It’s better than a lot of cities in terms of gigs. We have so many shows here and a lot of musicians are employed. Classically, we have a real strong orchestra now. It continues to get stronger. I would say that we are on an upswing.”

Other interests: Health food, fitness.

Sticking around: “As far as I can see, I’m staying here. I don’t know that this will be my final destination in life. Right now it’s good.”

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