Take Five With Thomas McElroy
Started playing at the age of 16 with classical lessons. Studied at Cornish Institute from 1979-1981. Left Cornish to go on the road. Moved to Dallas Texas and gigged with James Clay Marshall Ivery and Red Garland. Moved back to Seattle and have worked with everyone in town at one point or another.
Teachers and/or influences?
studied with Don Mock and Bob Rice. Influences are: Pat Martino, George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Ravel, Gorecki, Earl Klugh, Bireli Lagrene, Baden Powell, Tohino Horte, John McLaughlin, John Coltrane.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
All my life. I used to dance in the crib on two and four when they played certain classical music. but really about the age of 16 I wanted to play music and learn. All of my friends were musicians and they were pressing me to play and get into the Franklin High School jazz lab.
Your sound and approach to music:
My own sound and approach to music using the scales and harmony of the EIS system that is taught by David Blumberg and others. Also using the modes of John Mclaughlin. Wide intervals and complex harmonic approach to playing over changes and standards. When I write music I leave things open to interpretation by the side men I work with so everyone has a voice in the outcome of the music. I leave it free within the form so there is space to create whatever is on the musicians heart.
Your teaching approach:
I listen to the student play, watch their hands and see if the fingers work together and if the hands work together. I ask them questions about style, what they want out of music and then I tell them what I can do for them. I always end up telling them I will not teach them style but I what I teach them will allow them to get to themselves and create a sound that will be theirs.
Your dream band:
I like sidemen who can play time and with time and have ears enough that when I go left they go left as well. I have been fortunate in that I have been able to work with some really gifted time players so my favorite rhythm section would be for different styles that I play in. for jazz would be Jeff Johnson on bass and John Bishop. on my original material would be Reade Whitwell on drums and Dead Schmidt on bass. For funk and fusion Clarence Robinson on drums and Gerald Turner on bass.These are the best of the local cats that I am fortunate enough to call friends and have the ability to create music with them.
I like small places with nice acoustics. I have played Jazz Alley in Seattle. That was nice.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Wes Montgomery Movin On The intensity of the album was just killin. The tunes are all great and the playing was superb. Also there is an album with Hal Galper, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Bob Moses on drums Wayne Dockery on bass. I do not remember the name of the album but they were all killin' that music on that album at that time. I sang all the Michael Brecker solos until I had them all down. It shaped my musical consciousness to this day.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Stanley Turrentine's Salt Song.. beautiful album.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I am always trying to improve and shape my sound till it is me. I am studying all the time and filling my consciousness with new vocabulary and I am not afraid of crossing boundaries. I play BB King licks in standards, whatever, music should not be sectioned off. You should be able to meld it all and play it all.
Did you know...
I was a yell leader in high school. I did not know it was such a great way to meet beautiful women!!!
CDs you are listening to now:
Ravel: Daphins and Chloe
Sibelius Symphony in A, Pohjola's Daughter
Rachmoninoff, Symphony in C minor
Desert Island picks:
George Benson, Bad Benson Michael Brecker, Wide Angles Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Scary, low paying gigs in town. I make the most of my money working in churches playing urban contemporary gospel or working playing in funk bands in the casinos around the Seattle area. I am close to destitute but with out that going on I would be really hurting.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Places to play, support of radio, support of labels, acceptance of music that may not fit the labels of jazz (i.e. standards, blues).
What is in the near future?
I am studying with composer David Blumberg and learning what is called the EIS system. Different scales, different harmonies to play against and I am learning how to write for strings and I want to fuse all of that with my existing music and make something new and original.
I do some computer consulting by day when I can find the work.
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: