An Interview with Tom Garling

Tom Garling is one of Chicago’s true musical treasures. Beyond his experiences with big names like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Dizzy Gillespie, he was a member of the Buddy Rich Big Band, the music director for Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau, and a key member of the Frank Mantooth Big Band.

Tom’s arrangements and compositions can be heard with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra and the New Standard Jazz Orchestra, and he is an integral part of Joel Adams’ Yestet. Aside from his obvious love of large ensemble jazz, Tom has an album of solo trombone, “Spatial”, made up of only sounds that can be derived from the trombone (including the mouthpiece and tuning slides…).

It’s hard not to see Tom’s value as a performer and arranger, but he is also a truly exceptional educator. Some of his former students include young Chicago rising stars like Matt Ulery, Rob Clearfield, Bethany Hamilton Clearfield, Pat Mulcahy, Kendall Moore, and Leslie Beukelman along with generations of students from the Birch Creek Jazz camp.

I reached out with some questions about Music Education, how he has built a career as an educator, and how he thinks we can do things differently.

 

MH: What are some musical qualities or skills that someone need to have to be successful?

TG: This is a loaded question. I thought about it many different times, and each time came up with a different answer. Here is what I came up with:

First, we have to determine what being successful in music is. I believe if a person is making a living in any vocation and are happy with what they are doing, we can say that they are successful. There are so many varying qualities that any one musician has, or lacks, and can still be active in the music scene. A musician with a good business sense and mediocre music skills can find a “niche” in the music world, for example.

I would think that having the ability to hear what you know, know what you hear, and be able to connect the two would be a beneficial quality. In other words, listening to a lot of music, and being able to hear and play the music, while at the same time understanding the theory. I always say, “Hear the music, know the music, BE the music!” If you can connect the music you hear with the theory you know, then the two become interlinked, even one and the same, and the possibilities for finding your way in music become much greater. A musician can work into many situations: playing, reading, composing, teaching, engineering, ect., with this ability.

Here are some categorized music skills that I believe musicians should have (I’m sure there are more that I’m overlooking):

  1. Be able to read music
  2. Have a good ear
  3. Have a good sense of rhythm, feel and time
  4. Have a solid foundation of music theory (chord scales, harmony, intervals, ect.)
  5. Be proficient on an instrument
  6. Have solid piano skills

“Growing as a musician is a lifelong pursuit, and no matter how good you think you are, there is always more to do and somewhere to go, which is the best part about it.”

MH: What are the biggest deficiencies of students graduating high school and coming to college for music?

TG: It varies from student to student, mostly depending on their natural abilities and exposure to music they had before college. Some have great ears but no theory experience. Some have great math skills for learning theory, but need work on training their ear. Some have a good ear for pitch, but need work on rhythm. Some are natural sight readers, but can’t “hear” what they are playing, which leads to poor intonation and sound. Some are proficient on their instrument, but don’t have solid piano skills. It seems that every student needs work in one or more of these areas. Every once in a while, I run into a student that is proficient at all of these skills, and those are the truly gifted ones.

 

MH: With those in mind, what are the musical skills you stress the most in your private lessons or group classes?

TG: Learning chord scales, chord tones and melodic patterns: A musician must know their chord scales and arpeggios inside and out, not just one way.  Playing a scale from root to root is just the very beginning of learning a sound or “mode” of each chord. I show them many ways to play the notes of a scale and chord tones, then I encourage them to find their own ways, and search for sounds, melodies, lines that appeal to them.

Learning tunes: A lot of students feel they know a tune when they really don’t. Most of the time, they have the melody memorized, but they can’t recite the chord changes, or say what the form is. I want to make sure they can do a roman numeral analysis of the chord changes, and show them how to find commonalities within a tune through form, and from tune to tune. Each tune memorized makes the next one that much easier.

Transcription: This will develop their ears, as well as give them a large amount of music to draw upon when creating their own. I show them how to apply their transcriptions to their own music through analysis, and hearing the notes by singing and playing. Being able to play on piano is very helpful. This is something I stress a lot.

“I think if a person is pursuing a degree in music education, they need to be well rounded in all styles of music.”

MH: Are there exercises that you use for every student, or are your lessons tailored more for each individual?

TG: Every student is different, and I try to find the areas that need work and concentrate on those. I give students things to work on that develop their ears and strengthen their theory, and I try to isolate problem areas. Ultimately, I try and help them to connect their ears with their mathematical mind (theory), and vice versa.

 

MH: When you judge an IMEA event or a Jazz festival, what are some of the things that surprise you the most? What are some of the things you would like to change?

TG: I have found that the disparity of levels is getting wider. There are a larger number of bands and students that sound mediocre at best, but a very few that sound better than some professionals I know.

Some band directors have no experience in jazz, and don’t know how to make a jazz band play in a jazz style (swinging, phrasing, improvising, ect.). They get hired to teach lessons on various instruments, conduct a wind symphony or orchestra, and direct a jazz band, but they might’ve come from only a classical background and are thrust into a situation they have no experience in. I’m sure this occurs the other way around, a person with a music education degree and a jazz background who has to conducting an orchestra, for instance.

I think if a person is pursuing a degree in music education, they need to be well rounded in all styles of music.

I also realize that not every student is cut out for this sort of thing, or are just doing it for fun. It’s important to cultivate future audiences of music, and playing in a band, even if it’s not your strength, should be encouraged.

 

MH: How has your relationship with publishing companies like Kendor connected you to the world of Music Education?

TG: In the music world, everything is word-of mouth, and getting your name out there, so an employer will think of you when looking for someone to hire. If a band buys my chart and likes it, they will look for more charts, and consider hiring me as a clinician at their school.

I was lucky enough to have caught the last wave of the touring jazz bands, and especially with my 6 years with Maynard. He was very enthusiastic about educating as well as performing, and all of the musicians who worked with him were able to cultivate a relationship with many high schools and colleges, leading to future clinician work. It was through this that my connection to publishing companies like Kendor came about. So, in essence it was my relationship with the music education world that connected me with the publishing world, or at least they went hand in hand.

 

MH: In what ways do you feel like Music Education and professional musicians are disconnected?

 TG: I feel like music educators are doing the best they can, but we have to remember that the music came first before the theory of the music came about. Music being an art of the ears- non material- has to be quantified in order to be taught. When a musician plays or composes at the highest level, their skills are learned so well that they don’t have to think about it while they are doing it-it happens naturally, but as a result of many years of practice, study, listening, transcription, and developing their musical imagination through these avenues. Earning a degree in music is just the beginning. Growing as a musician is a lifelong pursuit, and no matter how good you think you are, there is always more to do and somewhere to go, which is the best part about it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s