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‘A great drummer’: UNLV broadcast giant John Nasshan dies

Updated July 14, 2023 - 1:17 pm

John Nasshan was not finished broadcasting, pounding the drums, or hitting the live-music scene.

The Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Famer died late Wednesday night of heart failure in Las Vegas. The 67-year-old Nasshan was about to launch a new show on KUNV 91.5-FM, “The Smooth Jazz Radio Top 20 Countdown.”

”We did a test pilot of the show just this past Sunday,” KUNV General Manager Ashton Ridley said Thursday afternoon. “It was the next iteration of John’s career. It was a countdown show we were going to build around him, and we were looking at syndicating, long-term.”

The university has posted that information regarding Nasshan’s memorial services will be shared as it is available. Well-wishers are encouraged to donate to the listener-supported station at KUNV.org.

An hour of that pilot will air from 11 p.m.-noon Friday. “It will give listeners one last chance to hear his voice,” Ridley said. That show follows a 10 a.m.-11 a.m. segment, hosted by longtime KUNV host Kim Linzy, for listeners to call and share their thoughts and memories.

Nasshan, who had been working his way through recent heart ailments, was also getting back onstage and performing — or “gigging,” to use his musician’s parlance.

Back to performing

“He was a musicologist. He knew music, and he absolutely brought that to the radio,” said George Lyons, host of KUNV’s “Lyon’s Den,” which marked its 25th anniversary in June. “He sent me a message that he was out gigging again, and he was starting this new top-20 show. He battled with some health problems, but at this point in his life he was getting back out there performing and seemed very happy.

“I am just very shocked right now.”

Nasshan’s fiancee, Magdalena Brandon, said Thursday morning that Nasshan died of heart failure late Wednesday night in the emergency room of St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena Campus at 12:25 a.m. The couple had been together for about a year.

“We had so much fun together, going out and seeing live music,” Brandon said. “We had plans to go to Vic’s (in Symphony Park) tomorrow night. He was an amazing supporter of the entertainment community.”

Forever passionate about live music, especially jazz, Nasshan was a well-known drummer and on-air personality for KUNV for more than 25 years. Nasshan most recently hosted “The Morning Groove” from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays through Fridays.

UNLV College of Fine Arts Dean Nancy Uscher spoke to Nasshan’s influence across the Vegas entertainment landscape.

“The College of Fine Arts at UNLV — and the UNLV community — mourn the loss of colleague John Nasshan,” Uscher said in a statement. “He was an inspiration to many as a distinguished performer, radio personality and educator. We are very grateful for his generous and important contributions to the arts and for the powerful impact he had on the community.”

A ‘13 Hall of Famer

Nasshan was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Association’s Hall of Fame in 2013.

Dave Loeb, director of jazz and commercial music at UNLV’s School of Music, spoke to Nasshan’s prominence in the Vegas music community.

“John’s support was huge, and he made a major impact on the development of the program at UNLV, through his radio show and also his playing,” Loeb said Thursday. “He was a great drummer, dating back to the heyday of live entertainment in Las Vegas. He came into the jazz community as a player. He was so supportive of Las Vegas musicians, UNLV in particular.”

According to his official bio on the UNLV College of Fine Arts website, Nasshan was born in New York City, grew up in Chicago and was a Las Vegas resident since 1976. He began drumming lessons at age 5.

Among the stars he worked with as a drummer and percussionist were Petula Clark, Jack Jones, Chuck Berry, Ben E. King, Freda Payne, Sammy Davis Jr., Michel Legrand, Frank Sinatra, Clint Holmes, Cybill Shepherd, Susan Anton and Michael McDonald.

His life’s passion

“I knew I was going to be a professional musician from the time I was a little kid,” Nasshan once said. “I never thought of doing anything but playing drums.”

For about 15 years, Nasshan backed the great vocalist and impressionist Bob Anderson.

“The funny thing about it is, all the work I was doing and I never had a permanent job in a house band,” Nasshan said. “I was running around town like a hired gun.”

Nasshan was also drummer and percussionist for the showroom orchestras at Caesars Palace, the Desert Inn, the MGM Grand, the Frontier and Golden Nugget. Nasshan recently performed as principal percussionist/timpanist with the Henderson Symphony Orchestra and was freelance drummer. He was a life member of American Federation of Musicians Local 369 in Las Vegas.

Nasshan’s broadcast career began in the late 1980s as a sales associate at KWNR 95.5-FM. He was a sales manager at K-Lite 103.5-FM before starting his on-air career as a volunteer at KUNV in 1996, mixing his anecdotes of performing around town with his interviews and song introductions.

An industry leader

Nasshan became a full-time member of the KUNV staff in 2003. He served as mentor and coach to UNLV broadcast journalism and media-studies program students.

Characteristically comfortable among his fellow musicians, Nasshan was called upon to introduce headliners at KUNV-supported shows, including Jazz in the Park series at Clark County Government Center Amphitheater, and performances at Vic’s and Gambit Henderson.

Nasshan’s UNLV bio closes with, “When he’s not at KUNV hosting or on stage performing, John enjoys being with his beautiful lady, Magdalena; spending time with his standard poodle, Maddie; going to the dog park; cooking; and going to clubs to hear live music (especially jazz).”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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