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Greg Tardy: Wherever He Wants Me

Greg Tardy: Wherever He Wants Me
George Colligan By

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[ Editor's Note: The following interview is reprinted from George Colligan's blog, Jazztruth]

This past August, I did a concert with The Greg Tardy Quintet at Small's Jazz Club in New York City. The performance was significant in that it was the first time (except for one other gig earlier in the month) that I had shared the stage with tenor saxophonist Tardy in nearly a decade. I decided that he was a musician who would be interesting to interview for jazztruth, so I arranged to meet him before the gig. We sat down in the back office of Small's to discuss the past, present, and future.

George Colligan: We are here with Greg Tardy at Smalls. Just to let you know that my interview style is in the development stage, so it's pretty loose. So I will mostly just let you talk about whatever you want.

Greg Tardy: [laughs] Uh-oh!

GC: So you had a hiatus from playing jazz?

GT: Yes, that's correct. I had about three and a half years off the scene. I took a little bit of time off, and to make a long story short, anybody who is familiar with my music knows that I am deeply a follower of Jesus (Yeshua). And for years I had felt like I wanted to get deeper into Christian ministry, so I spent some years involved in a music ministry at a mega-church in Times Square. But I found that over time I was being led to get back to the jazz. Also, I had a major injury to my hands—some carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, which made it impossible to do the work at the church anyway. So it seemed like everything was pointing me back towards playing, so I'm very happy to be back.

GC: Did you go through any kind of musical withdrawal?

GT: Yes, the whole time! I'm a jazz musician. I love jazz, and I never stopped loving it. I was just trying to go the direction in which I felt God was leading me to go, and that's where I was supposed to be for a while. Now he's got me back on the jazz scene, and I'm very happy about it. Sometimes it's good to take time off! It's a chance to re-think things and to get re-energized. I feel more psyched about the music now than when I stopped.

And also, I never totally stopped playing, because at the mega- church, I was doing a lot of contemporary gospel stuff like Israel Houghton, and I was transcribing a lot of gospel music. That helped me to learn more about composition—about contemporary writing. So It wasn't a total throwaway, musically speaking. There are a lot of high-level musicians playing gospel music these days. So even though I wasn't playing my horn outside of services, I was still immersed in music—just a different kind of music.

GC: You are recording for the Danish jazz label Steeplechase. You've done how many CDs for them?

GT: I've done four CDs for Steeplechase. The latest is going to be released within the next month. And we'll probably do another one soon. [laughs] Hopefully you'll be on it!

GC: We'll talk about that! But I remember a long time ago, we spoke a bit about your experience with a major label, on Impulse. I don't think there is any musician now who has not been affected by the changes in the music industry. And I think it's interesting that you have so many determined musicians who are still making music despite the challenges. I have personally never recorded for a major label as a leader, but I'm curious, what did it feel like to record for a major company, to have it come to an end, and to press on regardless of the setback?

GT: It was a real blow to me after getting dropped by the label. I did one CD with Impulse, and The Hidden Light was going to be the follow-up, but we were fortunate to be able to do it for the J-Curve label. But I learned that the music business is not necessarily about music!

I felt good about my Impulse CD, Serendipity. It was a strong CD, and we had good backing. The label supported it, and we did some touring. But the business changed. Impulse and Verve merged, and half of the jazz label musicians got dropped. I think it made some people some more money, but it also hurt a lot of young up-and -coming musicians who needed to be heard. And the way the labels are now is so different. I actually feel blessed to have recorded anything at this point. But recording for a major, if anything, helps to get your name out there. Unfortunately, a lot of great players who deserved to be heard by a larger audience never got that opportunity. So I'm not that sour about it—I'm counting my blessings.

Jazz is definitely going through a rough time but I believe the music will survive. There are so, so many musicians who should be getting more attention, young musicians and old. And I believe that eventually something is going to happen that will put jazz back out there in the public arena again. What will it take? I don't know, but I'm expecting some kind of change.

GC: When are you going back out on the road with a band?

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