So Much to Talk About: Eastman alumnus Nabaté Isles on his Eclectic Career(s)
By Jessica Kaufman
Assistant Director, Public Relations, Eastman School of Music
Nabaté Isles’ varied career has taken him from the halls of the Eastman School of Music to the sports arena and back.
As a trumpet soloist with Christian McBride, Nabaté is coming off a recent Grammy win – the band’s second win. As trumpeter and composer, he’s about to release his first solo album, Eclectic Excursions – where he is joined by a “who’s who” of the jazz world.
Nabaté, an accomplished producer and host for SiriusXM NBA Radio, also hosts his own weekly television show called So Much to Talk About on MNN (Manhattan cable).
What makes Nabaté’s professional path so exciting is that both fields draw directly upon his experience at Eastman.
Nabaté entered Eastman in 1995, as an undergraduate in the then brand-new Jazz and Contemporary Media (JCM) program. Being a part of this new program gave him a well-rounded education as well as skillsets he has found useful in both of his careers.
Taking full advantage of his time at Eastman, in addition to his classes and lessons, Nabaté worked for the ensemble library and played gigs locally in Rochester. One of his mentors was Ralph Alessi who remains a friend today. “He expanded my voice not just in music, but in artistry: as an improviser and the scope of my art.”
Nabaté also mentions the joy of working with Michael Cain, a former professor at Eastman, professionally, as well as the late Fred Sturm, director of Eastman’s JCM program at the time, who, he says, gave him the education in composing, arranging, and scoring that has become a part of the fabric of his artistry. “Both Michael and Ralph brought a unique approach to jazz education by having all of their students look to cultivate their own voice by embracing all forms of art.”
Jumping from a BA in music to producing shows at SIRIUSXM NBA Radio might seem an unusual path. But Nabaté’s two loves – music and sports – always shared a place in his life. “I was always a sports aficionado as a kid. Then growing up, and while at Eastman, I’d watch games late at night after practice.”
This passion came full circle in 2005 when he won on ESPN’s Stump the Schwab, then starting his public access show on cable. He continued working at ESPN part time, and for the last few years has been heard on Sirius XM’s NBA Radio, hosting So Much to Talk About on MNN, citing his coverage of the 2018 NBA finals a highlight. During his shows, Nabaté discusses not only sports, but also entertainment and the arts.
“I do interviews and cover events for sports, but during this time I’m still performing. It’s overwhelming – two fields that I’ve been blessed to be involved in at a high level.” The drive to be top of his field in more than one arena is evident in Nabaté’s career path. “It keeps me humble, keeps me driven,” he shares. “It also keeps me coachable. I want to make sure I can maintain my skillset to be at that level.”
Nabaté’s debut solo album, Eclectic Excursions, was released this month. “I’ve wanted to do my own album since 2003, but I felt I didn’t have a ‘voice’ yet to share – I didn’t have anything to say.” Now, he feels differently. “Timing is everything, and I feel this is the right time. As a musician now, I feel that I have a voice. I can craft and share my influences in a very fluid way. This album is very diverse, musically and stylistically.”
Featured on the album is a “cornucopia of talented musicians,” as Nabaté puts it. Among his 25 collaborators are many long-time friendships Nabaté has kept throughout the years, including three Eastman grads: Beth Meyers BM ‘00E, MM ‘02E, viola; Kaveh Rastegar BM ‘01E, guitar and acoustic/electric basses; and Eric Stephenson BM ‘00E, cello.
Nabaté’s journey to this album stems from his Eastman education. “We often talk about the transferability of high-level musical skills to other professional fields, and how using one’s unique and personal skill sets leads to career journeys that we had not even imagined,” James Doser, Director of the Institute for Music Leadership at Eastman, reflects on his experience teaching Nabaté while at Eastman. “Nabaté Isles is at the pinnacle of both jazz performance and sports broadcasting, due in no small part to his creative, improvisatory, and communicative life and training as a musician. The release of his solo album is impressive evidence of ‘an artist at work’ and a testament to the value of embracing each of our very personalized paths to success.”
Nabaté himself is more modest about his successes. “What Eastman taught me is to be adaptable. When we practice music it’s about diligence, problem solving, what and why you practice. Music taught me to evaluate my time and to see what I can accomplish.”
This ethic translated directly into his work in sports and production.” It’s the same thing,” Nabaté explains, “being able to complete tasks, solve problems, possess organization.” Nabaté even credits his work as a producer, including computer skills such as audio mixing and editing, to an early class in music technology and film scoring at Eastman. “Everything ties together so well, and it’s been great to get back into so many basics with this album.”
For a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Eclectic Excursions, check out this documentary.
You can order Nabaté’s solo debut album Eclectic Excursions, released July 20, 2018, on all digital platforms including:
To check out Nabaté on air you can listen here.