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Take Five with Tom Lagana

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Tom Lagana:

Tom Lagana graduated from Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music in 1992 and began his career as a musician in the Walt Disney Jazz Band.

Upon returning to Maryland, jazz legend Charlie Byrd took an interest in Lagana after hearing him play in a local coffeehouse saying, "Tom Lagana is one of the most promising jazz guitarists in the area" and invited Lagana to sit in with Byrd on several occasions. Later that same year The Tom Lagana Group became the house band at Byrd's venue of choice, The King of France Tavern in Annapolis. The band played to a packed house three nights a week for over a year.



In early 2002 Lagana released his first recording, Patuxent. To debut the CD, the Tom Lagana Group was booked into the Rams Head Mainstage and played to a standing room only audience of over 200 people. After their performance at the Rams Head, the CD began its climb up the National Jazz Airplay Chart where it peaked at #17 over a 10-week period. It was garnering over 370 spins a week across the nation on more than 50 radio stations. Patuxent placed in the "Top 10 Most Requested CDs" for WICN in Worcester, Ma.

Throughout his career Lagana has played in numerous jazz festivals including the Chestertown Jazz Festival, Oregon Ridge Park, Annapolis Jazz Festival, The Mid Atlantic Wine Festival, Federal Hill Festival, and the Kaufmann Music Series. He has previously shared the bill with internationally known jazz icon Herbie Hancock.

Lagana has also worked with such noteworthy musicians as Charlie Byrd, Craig Handy, Red Rodney, Bob Mintzer, and Marvin Stamm. Tom's guitar work can also be heard on the Fox Network show America's Most Wanted.

As a classical guitarist, Lagana was a guest artist at the First World Guitar Congress in June 2004 at Towson University. He played bandurria with the Rondalla de Hunt Valley and participated in master classes with Ralph Towner, Dusan Bogdanovic, The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, and the Brazilian Guitar Quartet.

In 2005 he was invited to the Long Island Guitar Festival to perform for classical guitarist/composer Carlo Domeniconi. At that event, Lagana performed Koyunbaba, Domeniconi's most famous work and one of the most challenging pieces in the classical guitar repertoire.

In 2005 Towson University granted Tom Lagana a Masters of Music in Performance. While at Towson, Lagana had been asked to perform at the installation of the new university president, Dr. Robert Caret. Later Lagana was awarded 2nd prize in the prestigious Sidney Lieberman Competition. Normally won by pianists, Lagana was the first guitarist to be recognized in the history of the competition.

Later in 2005 Lagana became an instructor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. In 2007 he joined the faculty at Towson University.

As an author, Lagana's in-depth analysis of the music on Pat Metheny was published in two parts in the August '05 and November '05 issues of Just Jazz Guitar magazine and was endorsed by Metheny himself.

In 2008 Lagana was featured with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and the Wolf Trap National Park For The Performing Arts in Vienna, Va. Composer David Del Tredici lauded Lagana's performance on the tenor banjo, an instrument he had not previously played, in Del Tredici's work Final Alice, a 72-minute piece based on the composer's affinity for Alice In Wonderland by the NSO conducted by Leonard Slatkin. Recently he has performed with the York Symphony, Richmond Symphony, and again with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Instrument(s): guitar—nylon and electric

Teachers and/or influences? From the most practical standpoint I think the musicians in my band influence me the most since we play together so much. I studied at Berklee College of Music and Towson University under a few different teachers, most notably Jon Damian, Al Defino, and Dave Ballou and Michael Decker. I have had lessons from Tim Miller, Steve Khan. I have participated in master classes with Ralph Towner, Carlo Domeniconi, Roland Dyens, Dusan Bogdanovic, L.A. Guitar Quartet, and Brazilian Guitar Quartet.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... when I heard Eddie Van Halen's solo on Beat It

Your sound and approach to music: As with most jazz musicians, I am trying to find my path as a composer and improviser. I am always striving to connect with the musicians in the group and the audience. I always try to approach from the standpoint that the groove is the most important thing and must be established first. If it doesn't feel good, then no hip lick or concept is going to work.

Your teaching approach: Being on faculty at two universities, I get to interact with students quite a bit. It seems with students that issues of time are always the most obvious. Schools tend to teach what note as to when to play it. I think this is a gaping oversight. Schools make drummers learn harmony, equally important, all melodic instruments should learn how to play a drum. In the last year, I have been really focusing on the study of time. It has opened a whole new world to me. The best players don't play the hippest notes, we all have the same 12, they put them in the hippest places!! I always start my guitar students with voice leading. This is where the influence of Mick Goodrick is the greatest. His books on voice leading are a true treasure.

Your dream band:

I am working with my dream band. Todd Harrison and I have played for over 15 years. Tom Baldwin joined the band 4 years ago. I have never been a big fan of trumpet but I am a fan of Dave Ballou. His approach is so unique, from his sound to phrasing. It really is a dream know that Garzone is playing in the band.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: A gentleman had a heart attack during one of my solos. I didn't know to be flattered or insulted. Ha! The paramedics came rushing in and grabbed the drummers' sticks, which I thought was going to get him killed. I remember we were playing Alice in Wonderland and I told the guys to remember where we stopped. When the medics left we took it right from that measure and the house came down!

Favorite venue: Favorite concert venue is the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Performing with the National Symphony Orchestra is always challenging and rewarding.

Many favorite clubs—Zanzibar Blue in Philadelphia, King of France Tavern (first gig with Charlie Byrd), Blues Alley, Rams Head Mainstage in Annapolis

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? Schematic—provides the blueprint for what the band will sound like.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Cannot remember, but I think it was Incredible Jazz Guitar by Wes Montgomery and it still is aptly titled!

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? Just staying with it, helping this music survive. Contributing original compositions. Always trying to push forward.

Did you know... I am a huge soccer fan and I collect jerseys. I have close to 40. I would have been a chef had I not gone into music.

CDs you are listening to now: Jerry Bergonzi, Three For All (Savant) Jerry Bergonzi, Tenorist (Savant) David Hazeltine, Perambulation (Criss Cross) George Garzone, One Two Three Four (Stunt) Djavan, Ao Vivo (Sony) Lionel Loueke, Karibu (Blue Note)

Desert Island picks: Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil (Blue Note) Wes Montgomery, Incredible Jazz Guitar (Prestige) Pat Metheny, Bright Size Life Van Halen, Fair Warning (Warner Brothers) Miles Davis, Nefertiti (CBS)

How would you describe the state of jazz today? I will divide this into two sections—the good and the bad. Let's start with the positive:
  • There are incredible players all over the world. You don't have to go to NYC to hear incredible musicians play
  • The music is still moving forward. Playes are finding new ways to improvise and compose


Now the negative:
  • I recently had a great conversation with Jerry Bergonzi and we both talked about the lack of government support of this artform.
  • No clubs to play the music. We have been forced into restaurant/background work.
  • Lack of funds. Clubs now make you work for the door. If you don't bring in the people, you don't get paid. Its not enough you spend your life honing your craft, but now you are responsible to bring people into a place that more and likely has secondary service and food. The clubs have no skin in the game so their loss is minimalized. Make this places a desirable destination. I have a huge problem with this model.
  • We are bombarded with music. Everywhere, in the bank, grocery story, when we are on hold. Music has become the backing track to people's lives, not something they seek out. It is expected to be there.
  • The economy has affected the scene. People are willing to pay $100 for a football ticket, $20 for a beer and hot dog, $20 to park your car...but god forbid you pay a $10 cover to hear a great band perform.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Proper education of the artform. Awareness in the primary and secondary schools by keeping music programs alive and raising the awareness to children at a young age about this artform. IT IS THE ONLY TRUELY AMERICAN ARTFORM! Gov't support would help, REAL SUPPORT!

What is in the near future? CD release party in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Concerts with George Garzone.

By Day: I teach about 15 hours a week at Towson University and University of MD Balt Co. I lecture the history of jazz, coach ensembles—both classical and jazz and teach some private students

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: Chef
About Tom Lagana
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