Discover more from James’ Newsletter
Tom Tallitsch serves it up straight
Well so much has gone down and so much has been said and written the last few months, (and year for that matter) that it’s time for uplift and positivity. It’s spring and with it a renewal.
I’m very lucky and proud to have had a chat with master saxophonist Tom Tallitsch. He has a wonderful new record called ‘Message.’ 9 tracks that swing, groove and inspire. I’m sure you’ll love it. Here’s a short interview. Be sure to check the links. Listen, and get the MESSAGE!
J - Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about Cleveland. What was it like growing up there and how did you start on the Sax?
T - I was born in Chicago and lived on the west side of Cleveland from when I was 3 years old until I graduated high school. I started playing the piano when I was five years old and then saxophone in 5th grade band. I loved the saxophone! It was loud, shiny, and cool! I loved the big band records that my dad would play for me, and really wanted to make it into the school jazz band. I had a lot of great teachers who challenged and inspired me to work hard. I studied with Saxophonists Ernie Krivda and Mike Lee, and clarinetist Luiz Coelho. I was good enough to make it into some of the all Cleveland youth jazz bands and wind symphonies, and had a blast. I would always go to see the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and all of the shows at the Tri-C Jazz Fest. As a high schooler, I would go to the downtown jazz clubs. The Bop Stop, Nighttown, The Boarding House, etc. To this day I don’t know how I got in or how my parents even let me go.
We were at these places every weekend and even school nights. Joe Lovano is from Cleveland and would come into town every Christmas. My buddies and I would head down to hear him whenever he came to town. It was great!
J - You attended University of Cincinnati. What was the scene there like and how do those formative years inform your current creativity?
T - I loved CCM (College Conservatory Of Music at UC). They have a really great jazz studies program. My main teachers there were Rick Van Matre (saxophone), Pat Harbison (improv), and Phil Degreg (piano and jazz arranging). The first year was swing, second year Bird and bebop, third year, Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane, and I can’t quite remember what the fourth year was. Big Band arranging was a huge part of that year, writing scores and charts by hand before notation programs were being used. College was really intense for me though. I remember going into Pat Harbison’s office in tears. “How can I ever play like Bird, Wayne, or Trane in four years of school?” He said, “you can’t and won’t! We’re giving you the tools to work on this the stuff for rest of your life”. That was great advice. College taught me how to practice with focus and intention. It taught me how to solo, memorize tunes, transcribe, how to listen, and how to be a good arranger. Everything that I have today is from the teachers who helped me build that foundation. I had clinics with a lot of really great and powerful musicians when I was at CCM. Joe Henderson, Hal Galper, Chris Potter, to name a few.
J - So let’s jump to your current recording ‘Message.’ What’s the message?
T - The message is positivity. Love, gratitude and a positive attitude. One day at a time.
J - You’ve always had a talent for attracting superb musicians. Tell us about this latest crew.
T - I love this band! They are all such great musicians and we’re all good friends. I really miss playing with them. The creative energy is always high and the vibe is so fun. I’ve been playing with Dan Monaghan and Mike Kennedy since the late 90’s. I can’t count how many gigs we’ve played, especially with Mike. We’ve played so many duo gigs over the years. Such great times. I think i’ve only been playing with Neil Podgurski and Matthew Parrish for a handful of years now. They bring such a creative and refined hard bop approach to the band.
J - On previous records you’ve worked with Piano, Organ and Guitar. This time you have both Piano and guitar. How did that come about?
T - I love the guitar as a second melodic voice. I feel that it sounds really great either in unison with the tenor, or in harmony with the melody. Mike is a really great guitarist who plays from the classic jazz tradition, but he also brings a really deep rock and ambient influence to the music. The sounds that he gets on his guitars blow me away. Neil is a fantastic straight ahead player who brings an aggressive linear approach to soloing. I really dig his phrasing, harmony, and articulation. I love the way the two work together. They compliment each other and fit together without stepping on each other’s toes. Neil’s comping is very much on top, while Mike’s colors weave in an out.
J - Tell us about your approach to composing. Do you write for particular ensembles or do you have a particular sound in mind and then seek out the players?
T - I compose using my voice recorder on my phone when an idea comes to me. Usually when I’m driving or doing chores around the house. I sing or play an idea and then revisit it later at the piano to write it down. I have so many audio archives and notebooks filled with ideas and incomplete tunes. I have close to 100 finished songs. I usually labor over my compositions when I decide to sit down and write. If I document an idea when it comes to me, it tends to be more authentic. For each album I start with the band and what I want it to sound like. I choose the musicians, set the recording date, and then put a set together. I can choose from finished material or work with unfinished material to build the set that I’m hearing for the particular project. I usually have a sound that I’m going for.
J - Let’s switch gears a bit. You’ve also composed for the dance company Big Sky Project. Do you approach writing for that any differently?
T - It’s been over a year since I’ve done anything for my wife’s dance projects. I tend to record ambient, rhythmic pieces using prepared piano, percussion, winds, and other interesting sounds. My wife will have a piece that she is doing for Big Sky Project that is a certain amount of time. Let’s say eight minutes. I usually start with a rhythmic idea and build from there to try to come up with a composition that fits her needs in that amount of time. Most of my music for choreography is vibey and rhythmic. Working on the computer with Logic or Protools allows me to add or remove material quickly when working with a choreographer.
J - Getting back to ‘Message.’ You recorded this record just before Covid struck. Do you have any plans to perform this material with this lineup?
T - My second to last performance before Covid was with this band. Before any record date I make sure to book performances with the band to work through the material. In addition to rehearsals I think we performed the stuff two or three times. It’s kind of a hard question to answer though about performing this material in the future. Who knows how long this Covid situation will go on for. This album was recorded a year ago and was originally scheduled to be released in October 2020. It was pushed back to February 2021 because of all the noise and distraction with the news in 2020. I sometimes get sad and nostalgic when I listen to the album and watch the videos. I wish we were out there doing it right now, and I miss my band. I’m so proud of this album and love this band. I think when things start to open up, we’ll all be playing smaller gigs in smaller settings. I’m not sure how long it will take for venues that we used to play to open up. When it does happen though, I’ll add this material to my book and will perform the songs. I think at that point though I’ll probably be on my next project, or thinking about my next project. Right now I’m trying to wrap my head around the logistics of recording this band again in the near future with new material. I don’t want to wait. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about all of this. It really means a lot to me and I’m grateful. Thanks Jim!
Thank you Tom!
Be sure to pick up a copy of ‘Message.’