A birthday present received on his fourteenth birthday helped propel award-winning jazz guitarist Dixon Nacey into a lifelong passion for music, performing and teaching. Along the way Nacey has been mentored by some remarkable, giving teachers and musicians, and the result is a passion which continues to grow as he now pays it forward into the lives of his own students.
Musician Dixon Nacey is the Recorded Music NZ Te Kaipuoro Tautito Toa | Best Jazz Artist for 2020. Nacey says he’s genuinely blown away by the win and didn’t expect it, knowing the calibre of the two other finalists and the strength of their music, he just didn’t think it would be him. He’s not sure yet what the win will change for him, but it means a lot because of the recognition it gives to the sacrifices he’s made along the way.
“Looking back at the choices I made over the last 18 months – late nights juggling study, music and work, I can say it was worth it and it’s all worked out OK. In creative endeavours we often struggle to find rewards beyond our friends and family acknowledging what we do, but this award gives me the impetus to keep going, to keep making music, and the feeling like I’m on the right track”.
Nacey started playing guitar at fourteen when he became “obsessed immediately” with a Blues Guitar Licks Book, a gift from his Aunt and Uncle for his birthday. He learnt the music on his mum’s old acoustic guitar. He’d come home from school and would often practice guitar for 4-5 hours at a time, only surfacing for air when he had to come out to eat his dinner.
He says he didn’t know he was going to end up with music as his career, and fell into playing in covers bands after he finished high school. It paid the bills and there were plenty of opportunities to jam with other musicians doing creative projects and to keep honing his craft.
Mentors have played a key role in Nacey’s journey and he says the person who has had the most influence over his early life is Paul Norman, his music teacher from his teenage years. “He went above and beyond for ALL his students, not just me” said Nacey, describing Norman’s constant commitment to the young musicians he fostered.
“He would get us gigs, he would drive us to gigs, he let me borrow the school’s electric guitar... Above all, he taught us how to take music seriously”
After Nacey stopped music lessons the two became very good friends, with the unwavering support continuing through their friendship. He says everything Norman taught him are the things that have stuck with him, especially in regard to having respect for music. Paul got him to answer the question: “What is it that I can do to hold music in high regard and give everything to understanding it and delivering it?”
And there were other mentors, too many to mention, who gave Nacey their time, helping him develop as a musician. He says “you’d go to gigs and they’d talk to you for an hour, they gave me their time and were happy to talk about their craft, and it wasn’t a big secret”.
Nacey is also a tutor at The Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand (MAINZ), Auckland, a faculty of the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT). The good mentoring experiences from Nacey’s youth which continued into adulthood, have been a significant influence in his own role as a tutor, where he recognises he has the same ability to teach students a high regard for music.
He says “With Paul and other mentors, there’s a connection, a sense of legacy and paying it forward, the stuff you give your students – gigging, giving it heaps, being professional, being fully engaged in what you do...” these are the life lessons Nacey wants to give to his students.
“Paying it forward is vital, otherwise what’s the point of it all? You aren’t doing it for the money”.
He’s at pains to explain his success with music didn’t happen by accident, quoting “preparedness is 90% of the battle”. Nacey describes how a momentum builds around the body of work musicians produce.
“If you’re out there working really hard , there’s an energy that builds around that, and it grows. As people learn they can trust you, they know you’re the real thing because of your professionalism, respect for others, respect for the music and its process”.
It’s clear Nacey has earned every ounce the credibility he now has. For example, his role as Musical Director for Coca Cola Christmas in the Park, a position he’s held since 2016, was a progression from other projects he’d worked on MD’ing and in television, and came about as a result of the good relationships he had with the previous artistic directors of the show.
“We have a responsibility to treat people well when we interact with others. I don’t necessarily recall the gear I used or the dollars I earned, but I remember people giving me time outside the music. When people you admire treat you well, it sticks with you. That’s what really mattered; that and a real respect to treat the music well. If you respect the music, the answers are all there. That’s what I want to pass onto my students”.
For information on how to learn music at MAINZ, go to https://www.sit.ac.nz/Courses/MAINZ or phone Auckland campus 0800 265 526 or Christchurch campus 0800 264 426
MAINZ Auckland Campus is relocating in July (semester 2), and being welcomed into the extended whanau at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Māngere Campus. The Māngere campus is within walking distance to the Māngere Town Centre and students will have access to a full range of facilities and student support services. Campus manager Dot Bach and the rest of the MAINZ team look forward to welcoming all students to the new location.