Self taught by ear on an old Stella flat top during a bout of encephalitis that kept him out of school for a year. He taught himself to play the music he heard around him: traditional country blues and the gospel his grandmother played on piano in a small church in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
At age 14, Tim was nominated by a musically astute uncle for a scholarship at the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts. There he studied the classics with Segovia protege Jesus Silva while continuing to play all kinds of music, increasingly turning to classic jazz for inspiration. He adapted compositions by Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, and Fats Waller to the guitar, frequently reducing piano arrangements to their essence. Early influences were Doc Watson, Arthur Smith, and most importantly Duck Baker, who opened up a horizon of possibilities for fingerstyle guitar.
After a stint on the road with a Chicago-based rhythm and blues band, Sparks arrived in Minnesota where he soon established himself as a journeyman guitarist and session player. While recording three albums with the seminal vocal jazz ensemble Rio Nido, Sparks also became proficient in jazz styles from Brazilian to Be Bop. It was at this time he arranged Carla Bley's composition "Jesus Maria" for Leo Kottke. ( Rio Nido's first two vinyl recordings have recently been re-issued on CD on the Japanese Vivid Sound Label. Check out Rio Nido
Sparks also found time to revive his interest in classical music, adapting Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite to the guitar, a work that has been cited as a significant contribution to solo guitar literature. For Sparks it was a labor of love that earned him the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship in Winfield, Kansas in 1993.
A sojourn abroad inspired his interest in European and Mediterranean styles, particularly the music of the Balkans. Upon his return to Minnesota, Sparks immersed himself in the ethnic music scene, performing on Oud and Saz in Middle Eastern ensembles and playing guitar in Greek, Klezmer, and Sephardic groups. During this period he also worked with Jack McDuff, Cab Calloway, Eartha Kitt, The Wolverines and Mandala.
This work culminated in the recording of Sparks' BalkanDreams Suite, a remarkable collection of odd-meter guitar arrangements.Many of the Balkan Dreams compositions were recorded on Tim's debut solo CD, The Nutcracker Suite, in 1993. This recording was hailed by Guitar Player Magazine as "an exhilarating, odd-meter minefield inspired by Near Eastern music" and "an important recording from a gifted composer, arranger, and performer." Two more releases followed on the Acoustic Music label, Guitar Bazaar (1997) and One String Leads To Another (1999).Read more
- Little Princess by Elliott Simon
Folk Roots Magazine Great Britain "Sublime take on Klezmer and Sephardic standards veering between bluesy, flamenco-inflected finger-picking and Joao Gilberto. Gorgeous"
Willing to teach
Taught four years at the University of Minnesota 2005 to 2009. Taught at guitar camps like Winnipeg Folk Fest, Acoustic Guitar Seminars and Swananoa. Available for clinics, workshops.
I specialize in Fingerstyle guitar do a hands on clinic focusing on GEDCA system of chord shape/scale/arpeggio connections. I also cover jazz chord voicings and melodic minor and sub modes corresponding to Major, Minor and Dominant 7th chord shapes. I can also teach world music technques including latin-bossa nova, balkan and middle-eastern and how these apply to my Radical Jewish Culture projects for Tzadik.
Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson
Little Princess - Tim...
At The Rebbe’s Table
One String Leads To...