Courtesy of Greg Tardy

J Curve


Take my word for it. Greg Tardy is a monster tenor saxophonist. I saw him with a makeshift quartet a few years ago and I was so impressed that I started trumpeting the young Tardy to anyone that would listen. Unfortunately, and perhaps I am a jinx, but not far along into my lecture series, Universal (who owned Impulse! at the time) bought Polygram (who owned Verve) and Tardy was soon without a label. When I was in New York, I saw him play in a variety of situations, Sunday brunches at the Blue Note, with Andrew Hill, and with Rashied Ali. Coltrane references, the line starts to the left and it is long. So get in line now before the Tardy show is sold out. Not convinced? Take a read through this Chat, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.

GREG TARDY: Well, I started off playing classical clarinet because both of my parents were classical opera singers. I was around classical music all the time, music of the symphony concerts and stuff, when I was a kid. And naturally, I gravitated towards classical music. I didn't listen to any jazz at all. I really didn't have that much jazz around me until late high school. My mother switched to jazz. She became a jazz singer and she started having rehearsals around the house, buying records and stuff, but I really wasn't interested at the time. Eventually, people started sticking me on the saxophone in a lot of ensembles that I was involved with. The sax is so similar to the clarinet and I came from a small music program and they always needed extra players in different places and so I got stuck on the saxophone sometimes. I started playing with some funk bands in the Milwaukee area, which is where I was living at the time, and so I figured, if I am playing this thing in public, I better shed on this thing and develop on it. My brother, who was a trumpet player, started getting on me to learn jazz. He eventually turned me onto a record John Coltrane did with Thelonious Monk. That really shocked me into wanting me to be a jazz musician. From that moment on, I became less of a classical clarinetist and more of a jazz saxophonist and it took a lot of years and a lot of hard practice to get it together, but I am glad I made the switch. Quite recently though, Fred, I am starting to play the clarinet. I just started after laying off for a good ten years. I feel like it is taking time to get it to the point of where I want to get it, but it's coming.

FJ: A jazz musician's life is a hard, unheralded one, any regrets?

GREG TARDY: No, none whatsoever.

FJ: What was it about John Coltrane that made such a dramatic impression upon you?

GREG TARDY: Actually, it was a slow tune. It was "Monk's Mood." There was just something about the emotion. It was real subtle, but it was real powerful. The harmonies were different than anything that I had every heard before. It really is hard to put into words. It just had a certain quality of it that just spoke to my heart. I couldn't get it out of my mind and I just listened to it over and over again. I wanted to be able to do that.

FJ: Little bird told me that you are the consummate practicer.

GREG TARDY: To be honest with you Fred, for years, I would practice eight plus hours a day. This last year, I took a little bit of time off because I had to take care of some personal matters. But at the same time, I am just starting to get serious again. I used to be really, really, I used to spend a whole lot of time with it. Part of it was because of my artistic goals and part of it was because I started so late and I realized that I had a lot of catching up to do.

FJ: While most musicians before a show are at the bar getting a drink, vibing with a lady, or just meditating on their dressing room, you pace up and down, playing scales on the tenor, is that a conscious preparation?

GREG TARDY: Oh, yeah. It is so I can bring out the maximum that I am capable, to just get warmed up and just to review something that I have been checking out or to see how the horn's working that day. The horn changes everyday because the saxophone is a fussy instrument and sometimes the low end doesn't want to work as well or the reeds don't want to work right. I'm just trying to figure out where the horn is responding the best that day, so I can figure out what angle I will be coming from when I play.

FJ: How did the Impulse! deal go down?

GREG TARDY: I met Tommy LiPuma through my wife. He asked to hear a tape for a project coming up with Horace Silver. I gave him the tape and he dug it and so did Horace and that particular project never happened, but as a result, I did get a record deal out of it. Unfortunately, with the merger of Verve Records and Impulse!, all the first time artists over at Impulse! got dropped and the remainder of the musicians moved over to Verve, so that pretty much lasted for one record. It was good while it lasted.

FJ: Let's touch on that record, Serendipity, which is a kicker, but never got any real push behind it with the merger bullshit.

GREG TARDY: I have a lot of original compositions. Me and Tommy LiPuma had meetings and tried to figure out what they wanted to present for me as a first time artist and how I wanted to represent myself. That resulted in the choice of those tunes. Every single musician on there is some of my favorite musicians. Eric Harland is on my new record and me and Aaron, we still play together a lot. Me and Russell Gunn still play together. Me and Tom Harrell still play together.

FJ: Eric is a fierce cat.

GREG TARDY: Oh, yeah.

FJ: He can sure play the drums.

GREG TARDY: Yeah, and the thing that is really great is when I did Serendipity, not as many people knew about him, but now he is all over the place. Not only that, he is getting better and better. He always could play. The first time I heard him, I knew that he and I would be playing together a lot. He is just a phenomenal musician.

FJ: Let's touch on the new record for J Curve.

GREG TARDY: I recorded last year, at the end of April, beginning of May. It is almost a year old.

FJ: Is the record an accurate picture of where you are now?

GREG TARDY: It is an accurate picture of where I was at a year ago.

FJ: Where are you now?

GREG TARDY: Well, since then I have had a real blessing of being able to play with a lot of different musicians. Me and Andrew Hill have done a lot of stuff together. And I have Rashied Ali. Me and him have been doing a lot more stuff. We are playing at Sweet Basil all this week. I have been doing work with a lot of groups on the freer side of things. It has really broadened my outlook on that. On the flipside, I have been doing a lot of gospel stuff, which is something I have been involved with for the last five years. I still love the more traditional stuff too. I have done a lot of stuff with Dave Douglas too. The influence of Andrew Hill, Rashied Ali, and Dave Douglas have me thinking a lot more about free music.

FJ: How has playing with Andrew Hill helped you shape your overall musical conception?

GREG TARDY: He is extremely prolific. He is imaginative. He has got such fresh ideas as a writer, even for today, even with all this stuff that people are doing today, it is like his stuff is still fresh and a lot of it is uncharted. People don't really check out his stuff as much. They will listen to it, but people won't try to play it. What's his name? The young piano player on Blue Note.

FJ: Jason Moran.

GREG TARDY: He is about the only person I know as far as the younger piano players that is really, really getting into that stuff. What I really dig about Andrew is that he gives you a lot of space. His writing is really dense, but he gives you a whole, whole lot of freedom.

FJ: So you get to stretch out a lot?

GREG TARDY: Oh yeah. He gives his sidemen a whole, whole, whole lot of space.

FJ: You are on Dave Douglas' new RCA album.

GREG TARDY: Yeah, when we did the record it was really great. I had heard Chris' (Chris Speed) for years. It was fun. We are playing the Vanguard next week. Dave is really inspiring me. He's one of my favorite composers. He is a brilliant trumpet player, extremely prolific and he is, conceptually, he is coming from so many different angles and it is really inspiring to me.

FJ: His music is quite organic.

GREG TARDY: It's really organic, but really precisely thought out, really meticulously thought out. Sometimes when you listen to recording where there is a lot of freedom, you wonder how much of this is composed and how much of this comes out of the mind of the composer. I would say that conceptually, Dave's music comes out of him. A whole lot more comes out of him than I thought. That is really great that he can compose so much stuff and give it a feeling of freedom. A whole lot of it is really free, but a whole lot of it is thought out too.

FJ: Rashied Ali.

GREG TARDY: I think he is the most underrated John Coltrane sideman there was. People just don't take him seriously enough to this day. Having played with both Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali, they are extremely different, but I can see certain aspects in both of their playing, why Trane, I see a natural link from him moving from Elvin and ging onto Rashied. I can see the, particularly looking at the way Trane's music was going, I can see what Trane was thinking about.

FJ: Having played with both Elvin and Rashied, the Trane comparisons are going to be inevitable, do you think that is accurate?

GREG TARDY: I mean, I guess people might, it is like one of those things from a listener's standpoint, I can see why people would want to do that, but the truth of the matter is, is that there is never going to be another Trane. A whole lot of people tried and failed. I would not even try to fool myself into thinking of trying to do something like that. I just want to try to be the best Greg Tardy that I can be.

FJ: Are you the best Greg Tardy that you can be?

GREG TARDY: At time (laughing). It still needs a little tweaking, but I am working on it.

FJ: Can I expect a freer vein for future albums?

GREG TARDY: I think you can expect that, but at the same time, I haven't lost my love for the tradition. I don't think I will ever lose touch with the tradition, but as far as seeing me do records where I am trying to sound like, pick a name, or tribute records, I don't see myself doing that.

Fred Jung is Editor-In-Chief and was not in Desert Storm. Comments? Email him.