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Tim Garland

Since the early 1990s, woodwind multi-instrumentalist Tim Garland has been one of England’s best-kept secrets. Emerging on the international scene three years ago as a member of Chick Corea’s band Origin, Garland’s career has since kicked into high gear and is a secret no longer. With projects that reflect his diversity and far-reaching instrumental and compositional capabilities, Garland is taking his rightful place amongst other British luminaries, including Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor.

Early Days

Garland grew up surrounded by classical music and, in fact, did not seriously pick up a reed instrument until he was twenty years old. Nevertheless, he was exposed to jazz at an early age. "I guess my very first influence would be clarinettist/saxophonist Tony Coe," says Garland, "who actually lived down the road from me here in Canterbury. I was doing a gig, when I was fourteen or fifteen, and he walked in; of course I almost died of embarrassment. It was the first time I’d met him, but then I’d go hear him every time I could. I think the reason why it was important was that it wasn’t recorded music; it was the first time I really got the message of what live music was."

While still pursuing classical studies in composition, Garland was listening to a variety of jazz artists, from Steps Ahead to Zoot Sims.

Garland then discovered the German ECM label; the impact on him continues to this day. "Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen," Garland explains, "I got into Keith Jarrett; I listened to loads of Keith and the bands he had with Dewey Redman and Jan Garbarek. And because of him, I got into all things ECM for a while: Pat Metheny, Ralph Towner, certain Chick Corea albums, Eberhard Weber, the more classical stuff."

"That was my first serious feeling that I truly identified with a type of music" Garland continues. "I think because I was brought up with so much classical music, I identified with the slightly more classical approach of ECM; it wasn’t as heavily urban as the New York scene, so it rang true with my upbringing."

Garland was, at this point, far more interested in composition than performing, but that was soon to change. "When I was at the Guildhall School of Music," Garland says, "composers around me were saying I’d be much better off if I could play an instrument at professional standards, because you have to have as broad a base as you possibly can. I was studying to be a composer and I realized there was this huge hole in my life, so I blew my entire grant on buying a tenor saxophone. Amazingly, I was allowed to change studies, and so I threw myself into it. I remember being a second year student and not knowing what some of the high keys on the saxophone were for! I had to get it together in the space of about six months."

Immersing himself completely in the instrument, Garland found himself heavily influenced by Joe Lovano. "I remember, around that time," explains Garland, "really getting into the Paul Motian Trio with Lovano and Frisell; it was like a little orchestra. Lovano has been a lasting influence. I think that the way he looks forward and backwards on the horn simultaneously, covering the whole tradition, yet looking way, way forward at the same time; and he interacts every time he plays. These things are not so much stylistic as they are about the attitude one brings to the music."

"The attitude thing is very important" asserts Garland. "Two more huge influences on me have been Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor; being based in the UK I got to hear them live. Their attitude towards composition, interaction and space was hugely important to me."

Lammas

Within three years Garland was on stage as a member of Ronnie Scott’s band. In 1990, Garland began what was to become a ten-year association with the genre-bending folk meets jazz trio Lammas. "By that time," says Garland, "I’d played with a good number of piano players, had got more into the repertoire of what you’d call the main stem of jazz tradition and I loved it, just learning how to approach swing and find my way around it. But I wanted to work with an acoustic guitar player; I’m sure listening to Ralph Towner encouraged me in that direction. This Scottish guy phoned up, Don Paterson, who was brought up simultaneously with folk music and jazz. He would play Stella by Starlight for example, but with all these folk inflections, which I’d never heard before. So we met and that was the beginning of Lammas."

"We were boys when we recorded the first album in 1990," Garland continues, "but it has some lovely things on it. We went on to record five albums together."

Concurrently with Lammas, Garland continued to work on other projects, "Deepening," he says, "my approach and appreciation of the swing side of music; I was getting more into listening to Coltrane and moving back through the great American tradition. I made this album, Enter the Fire, with Jason Rebello on piano, a wonderful player who has been playing with Sting for the past three or four years, and Jeremy Stacey, a fantastic drummer. I think that was the first time I really started to fall into my stride playing in a swing-oriented way."

Origin and Made by Walking

In 1999, Chick Corea heard Enter the Fire, and contacted Garland about working in his acoustic sextet, Origin. "He was very interested," Garland explains, "in creating a band that had a lot of bandleaders in it, people who would go off and do their own thing; I think he’s attracted to that kind of personality. So along with playing in Origin came the opportunity of doing something on his label, so I decided to record what became Made by Walking."

The majority of Made by Walking consists of a suite of nine pieces commissioned by the 1999 London Jazz Festival. The group included trumpet/flugelhorn player Gerard Presencer, Origin bassist Avishai Cohen, and Brad Mehldau drummer Jorge Rossy. Notably, the group also included pianist Geoff Keezer and Joe Locke on vibes and marimba. "I’d known Joe Locke for years," Garland describes, "He was the first American musician I had ever made friends with. He was a fan of Lammas and we hit it off straight away. My first introduction to America was sleeping on his carpet, him taking me out to all the clubs and introducing me to all his friends. Everyone needs a friend like that."

The Storms/Nocturnes Trio Emerges

Since 1995, Garland had been thinking about a trio consisting of vibes, piano and reeds. "Things were starting to fuse together," says Garland, "between the very rhythmical, masculine approach of some of the great American bands I’d been listening to, and the chamber side of music that I’d been brought up with. Obviously Chick Corea and Gary Burton had a fantastic duo that I’d been listening to for ages. I remember doing a couple of one-off dates with Jason Rebello and Joe, when he came over to the UK, and then Jason went off with Sting."

"The last track of Made by Walking," Garland continues, "which we decided to do almost as an afterthought, was a trio track with Joe and Geoff. I was thinking that Geoff Keezer had such fantastic time, and an amazing left hand; he’s like the best bass player you could ever want. So we did the track, Trinity, and it came off very strongly. I’ve always been interested in interaction, and one great way of learning to interact at a deeper level with musicians is, rather than add more of them, to take them away. If you have just a duet, the music doesn’t stand up to too much unless you’re interacting all the time. With a trio you get this fantastic triangle going on."

Thus the Storms/Nocturnes trio was born. It would be another year before the trio would record again, but in the meantime Garland was touring heavily with Origin. "I did about a hundred and fifty concerts," Garland explains, "in about twelve months. I don’t think Lammas did that many concerts in ten years! But it was an incredible time of consolidation; it really gives you an enormous amount of confidence and, especially in my case, an approach to time; just the feeling of sitting in the groove in a mature way. That’s one thing I learned in particular working with drummer Jeff Ballard, which was an absolute joy."

Sadly while Garland has toured extensively with Origin, other than one track on Chick’s recent Rendezvous in New York release there is no recorded documentation of his work. More of Origin’s shows at the Blue Note, from which Rendezvous in New York was culled, may ultimately be released, and Corea has also hinted at a possible regrouping.

The Dean Street Underground Orchestra

Around the same time that Tim was busy on the road with Origin, he formed a little big band, the Dean Street Underground Orchestra, to play one night a month at London’s renowned club, Pizza Express. What began as a relatively simple idea a regular residency to give some of London’s established and up-and-coming players a chance to get together and have some fun has developed into a going concern with a live album, a tour of the UK and dates at the Blue Note in New York.

One of the most important projects that Tim has undertaken for the Orchestra has been to revive a lost work by Kenny Wheeler. "Windmill Tilter", is a piece from the sixties originally written for the John Dankworth band. "It was like some kind of archaeological research," Garland says, "the old scores were buried in John Dankworth’s library and hadn’t been touched in thirty years. It was originally written for a very unusual line-up including tuba, so I had to re score all of it for the Underground Orchestra, which has just ten players. We did half a dozen dates in the UK; I got Geoff Keezer and Jeff Ballard to come over to join the UK guys; and Kenny was in it as principal soloist."

The Orchestra has evolved into a larger group of rotating players, with a repertoire big enough to handle regular shifts in personnel. "You have to have a core set of players," explains Garland, "and it has been OK because we do the Monday night slot, so a lot of people are regularly available. The repertoire is big enough now so I can think, for example, if Jeremy Stacey is available we can throw in more of the stuff that he knows. What you want to avoid is having half the band sight-reading, because even if their sight reading is great, the spirit of the music suffers somewhat."

Soho Story, a live album recorded at Pizza Express, was released and nominated for a BBC award. "We actually recorded almost enough material for a second album on that same night" Garland explains. "The album has done really well. I was very pleased with the fact that, in such a small club, we could get such a good sound."

"For the second time I’ll be doing something at the Blue Note in New York," Garland continues, "which is sort of a U.S.-version of the band. It’s very nice to hear the difference between the U.S. and U.K. approach to some of the music. I think you’re more likely to hear, from the U.S. players, a higher degree of swing; you can hear more references to the greats, like Freddie Hubbard. With the U.K. players there may be a certain looseness, and with that, the potential, maybe, for greater lyricism. But then I’m generalizing to the point where it’s dangerous because you could give me a list of fifty New York players who have what you might call a European approach; you hear someone like Dave Douglas who is just so lyrical, and then you get some European guys on saxophone who are just so hard-hitting that they’d fit into an Art Blakey band any day. So it’s very mixed up these days, but I’d say as a general rule, that perhaps there is a closer regard for the tradition from the New York players."

Storms/Nocturnes

In 1991, Garland, Locke and Keezer reconvened to record the album Storms/Nocturnes. A stunning album that has met with great critical acclaim, it put the jazz world on notice that a significant new group had arrived on the scene. Unlike so much of the chamber jazz with which it is grouped, Storms/Nocturnes is an extroverted affair, with a strong emphasis on rhythm. Instead of drawing you in, the music of Storms/Nocturnes jumps out at you. "It’s an accurate representation of our personalities" says Garland. "Joe is very extroverted, while Geoff and I are somewhere in the middle. One of my favourite quotes about the album, from a UK paper, was ‘it’s like ECM with the sun shining.’ That’s really nice because, in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what I’d hoped it would be. What you have, after all, is two percussion instruments and woodwinds, so of course you’re going to have a lot of fun with rhythm."

"I guess," Garland continues, "that despite my love of a lot of ECM music, perhaps I didn’t want to fall into the more stereotypical ECM aesthetic. I love rhythm, and that’s one of the reasons I love Geoff and Joe’s playing so much; it all comes from such a deep sense of rhythm."

Rising Tide and Composition

Storms/Nocturnes was successful enough, both critically and commercially, to allow the group to tour sufficiently to develop some sense of history. In December, 2002, the group went into the studio and recorded their latest disk, Rising Tide. Building upon the strengths of the first record, but with a stronger emphasis on writing, Garland says "It’s the most composed record I’ve ever done. With ‘Sonata’, for example, you can hear things that are very precise things that are played by two instruments simultaneously. And there are several different sections, so I am looking at things like rondo form, sonata form, etc., just to get away from the theme/variations form that so often defines jazz."

Garland has some very clear concepts when it comes to composition. "It’s much easier to write for individuals," describes Garland, "rather than anonymous instrumentalists. You can imagine the kind of chemistry that will take place when you know a little about what people do best. With all the projects that I write for, and this includes orchestral writing that is beginning to come my way, I want to create something that contains a spark of vitality, often an extremely simple idea, clothed in different ways."

"I have been very affected by poetry over the years," continues Garland, "and several of the things I’ve been happiest with have had an emotional root in a poem. I think most writers are like this; once you engage strongly with an idea it gives you the energy to keep furrowing it until something decent pops up. I am rather suspicious of things which are overly self-pitying or deliberately flashy; it seems great sometimes but ultimately it’s a turn-off."

More extended compositions, however, do present a unique challenge in live performance. "Although it’s fascinating," Garland explains, "in a live situation it becomes a real drag because you don’t have the same freedom; so we try to strike a balance with much looser things where the voicings are up to the individuals, where you just have a bunch of chords, so more of it has to do with interaction and feel."

Rising Tide also stretches into new territory with the inclusion of a string quartet on two tracks. "I’ve wanted to use a string quartet for a while," says Garland, "perhaps increasing the link to the classical influences I’ve always held."

The final track on Rising Tide, "Fantasy", is an interesting effort where Garland improvised spontaneously on soprano sax, then transcribed the solo and scored string quartet parts around it. "I’ve been experimenting with that over the years," Garland says, "where you take improvisations from yourself or other people and then score them, so you’ve got something which is effectively composed music, but what you’re listening to is the act of total improvisation at the same time."

Bill Bruford’s Earthworks

Garland continues to maintain a full schedule. Aside from the Storms/Nocturnes trio, he is also a member of Bill Bruford’s current Earthworks line-up. "Years ago I’d given Bill an album of mine, so he knew me" explains Garland. "When you run a band like Earthworks that has been going on for fifteen years, sometimes you need new personnel to bring a new flavour to it. Initially Bill was interested in my writing skills; the other guys encouraged Bill to bring some new blood into the band, and it was very convenient for me as I’d grown up listening to the Bruford material."

The current Earthworks line-up recently recorded a new live album, at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California, slated for release in the spring of 2004. "I’ve written six or seven new pieces that we do in the set now;" Garland says, "We also did arrangements of "One of a Kind" and "Beelzebub", two of Bruford’s earliest compositions."

Acoustic Triangle

Another ongoing project for Garland is the piano-bass-woodwinds trio, Acoustic Triangle. "I was working in the Dankworth Big Band," says Garland, "with Malcolm Creese, this wonderful bass player who was brought up playing jazz and classical music. We found ourselves talking one night, and we found we had this mutual love of classical music. He had a band with Tony Coe in it, and I took over from that and it became Acoustic Triangle."

"One of the things we wanted to do," continues Garland, "was experiment with arrangements of music that had a classical root, so we did some Ravel, some Samuel Barber, Poulenc and Messiaen. We experimented in a way that hopefully wouldn’t make them roll in their graves. We’d embed improvisations within them; I think that the harmonies of Ravel and the links with a looser improvised kind of music really worked."

Being a resolutely acoustic group imposes some restrictions. "It really works in places like churches, converted theatres with high ceilings, that kind of thing,"Garland explains. "We tend to look specifically for venues that suit our sound; no PA, not even for announcing, we just go and play. With those classical influences, it starts to sound wrong if you mess around with the sound and mike things up. I think that’s what people have come to expect from this trio; you hear, for example, this double-bass ringing in a room, and it’s amazingly refreshing."

The trio has released one album, Interactions, with pianist John Horler. "It definitely has a European feel," Garland says, "there’s not very much swing content. We’ve also just recorded with an amazing young piano player, Gwylim Simcock; he’s only twenty-two and practically a genius. He’d written a suite of music and we did it in this beautiful old church with one of the BBC’s best pianos; it was one of the most enjoyable recording experiences I think I’ve ever had."

The Future

Between the Storms/Nocturnes trio, the Dean Street Underground Orchestra, Acoustic Triangle and Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, one would think that Garland’s plate would be full. Still, there’s room for at least one more project. One problem with touring with Storms/Nocturnes is that, Garland says, "We need places with great pianos; there are a lot of venues out there that we have to turn down because they just don’t have a piano. So rather than not work, I thought I’d do something with guitar. I decided to offer something totally different from Storms/Nocturnes, so I’ll be in New York in mid September to record a quartet made up of Paul Bollenback, a wonderful acoustic and electric guitar player, Gary Novack on drums and John Pattitucci on bass. I’ve spent some time writing solidly for that group, and I’m hoping, at least with Bollenback, that I can get out on the road and do some of it in the next year or so."

Garland has also been appointed Resident Composer at Newcastle University’s International Centre for Music Studies. Bringing his early interest in composition full circle, this is the first formal appointment of its kind for a jazz composer in a major UK school, and there are already major commissions in the offing. Composer, performer, bandleader and improviser; Tim Garland is finally attaining the international stature he so richly deserves; and with it, the freedom to pursue projects as varied as his imagination can offer.

Interview reprinted courtesy of Nick Lea www.jazzviews.co.uk

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Tim Garland
  • Interview Date: 9/1/2003
  • Subtitle: No Longer a Secret
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