FIRESIDE CHAT WITH GREG TARDY
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
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
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
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
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
FJ: How has playing with Andrew Hill helped you shape your overall musical
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
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
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
Fred Jung is Editor-In-Chief and was not in Desert Storm. Comments? Email