Tom Guarna: Mad Scientist

Tom Guarna: Mad Scientist
George Colligan By

Sign in to view read count
[ Editor's Note: The following interview is reprinted from George Colligan's blog, Jazztruth]

I've known Brooklyn-born guitarist Tom Guarna for maybe twelve years, give or take. He used to literally live around the corner from my apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. We worked together in a band that drumming phenomenon Rodney Holmes had put together. I eventually asked Guarna to join an organ trio I was trying to start. This organ trio was called Mad Science and eventually, Holmes joined us and we recorded two albums —then a third with Kenny Grohowski on drums. Guarna and I worked and recorded with fusion legend Lenny White's quartet, and we've actually worked together in a number of other configurations.

Guarna is simply a great guitarist, perhaps one of the most underrated in the jazz world. He's got great ears and chops, but he has what many on that instrument lack: taste! The thing I love about Guarna's playing the most is the care in which he chooses his notes. But don't be fooled, he can burn with the best of them. He's very versatile as well; he knows everything from classical and flamenco guitar techniques, to bebop, fusion, and beyond. Guarna and I will be performing together at Smalls' in New York on July 22nd and 23rd. I wanted to feature him in jazztruth before then, so here's my interview with him:

George Colligan: Why guitar?

Tom Guarna: Well, my dad played guitar. He was always playing or practicing. I used to sneak into his practice room and play air guitar. It was just a natural progression.

GC: Describe your earliest musical memories. Do you think growing up in the New York area was important for your musical development?

TG: My earliest musical memories were of my dad playing around the house. He would have people over to play or once in a while he would take me to his rehearsals. I definitely think growing up in New York was invaluable to my musical development. I was able to go out to clubs and listen to all the great musicians I had been listening to on recordings. To have the privilege to be able to go out on almost any night of the week and hear all these great musicians was inspiring. I learned so much just from being there.

GC: Do you have goals as an improviser?

TG: I think the goal of any improviser is to be able to express what you are feeling through your instrument without any technical issues getting in the way. In order to achieve that, I spend a lot of time practicing to try and eliminate as many of those issues as possible. That is a life long pursuit.

GC: Who are some improvisers who inspire you?

TG: There are too many to list but to name a few, Bud Powell, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, [and] Allan Holdsworth. The list just goes on and on.

GC: How did you get into composing?

TG: As soon as I started learning how to play, I was trying to write my own songs. I later studied classical guitar at Brooklyn College. There I was lucky to study orchestration and composition with Robert Starer. In his classes we studied works from Bach to George Crumb. It was a great experience. I think that is when I took composing much more seriously.

GC: What motivates you as a composer?

TG: I enjoy writing my own songs. Life experience is a motivating factor. I try to be open to all things. Anything can be motivating or inspiring if you are open enough.

GC: What were the challenges of going back to school and getting your degrees? Do you feel like you learned something, even though you are already an established player?

TG: I did learn quite a bit. There is always something to be learned. Some things I learned were brand new and other things were just reintroduced and solidified. The real challenge while going back to school was trying to tour and earn a living. During my undergraduate degree at The New School, it was a bit easier to do that. When I went to Juilliard for my Master's Degree, it was much more of a challenge. The Juilliard program is very small, so it was hard to leave school for weeks at a time to tour. In any case, it worked out. I would have to say that the overall experience was a positive one.

GC: How do you see yourself as an educator?

TG: Teaching is a very hard job, if you really care about it. I feel I am genuinely interested in helping my students. I feel that is one of the elements that make me an effective teacher.

GC: Do you have some upcoming projects/gigs that we should know about?


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Charles Lloyd: The Winds Of Grace Interview Charles Lloyd: The Winds Of Grace
by Ian Patterson
Published: July 14, 2017
Read Randy Weston: Music of The Earth Interview Randy Weston: Music of The Earth
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: June 28, 2017
Read Nicole Johänntgen: Henry And The Free Bird Interview Nicole Johänntgen: Henry And The Free Bird
by Ian Patterson
Published: June 27, 2017
Read Aaron Parks: Rising To The Challenge Interview Aaron Parks: Rising To The Challenge
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: June 21, 2017
Read Generation Next: Four Voices From Seattle Interview Generation Next: Four Voices From Seattle
by Paul Rauch
Published: June 19, 2017
Read "Jack Wilkins: Playing What He's Preaching" Interview Jack Wilkins: Playing What He's Preaching
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: December 29, 2016
Read "D'Vonne Lewis: It's About the Love" Interview D'Vonne Lewis: It's About the Love
by Paul Rauch
Published: December 22, 2016
Read "Fred Anderson: On the Run" Interview Fred Anderson: On the Run
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 23, 2017
Read "Tim Bowness: Ghost Lights and Life Sentences" Interview Tim Bowness: Ghost Lights and Life Sentences
by John Kelman
Published: February 19, 2017

Support All About Jazz: MAKE A PURCHASE  

Support our sponsor

Upgrade Today!

Musician? Boost your visibility at All About Jazz and drive traffic to your website with our Premium Profile service.