As we come out of the first year of a historic global pandemic, I am glad to say that many musicians have adjusted and come out with creative ways to release and promote their existing and new music, as well as simply survive. One such musician is renowned saxophonist, Tim Garland. I am very excited that Tim was willing to share why he chose the saxophone, his approach to playing, and what projects he is currently working on. If you have not heard of Tim Garland before, don’t worry, I’ve have included a quick biography below to get you up to speed.
- Born in Ilford, Essex and grew up in Canterbury, Kent.
- Started on clarinet and piano before switching to saxophone at the age of fifteen.
- Tim studied Jazz And Classical Composition at the Guildhall School of Music.
- Tim’s first break as saxophonist was joining Ronnie Scott’s band at age 23.
- Later in Tim’s career, he joined the legendary Chick Corea as a regular member of several projects over a seventeen year period.
- Tim received a Grammy for his symphonic orchestrations on Corea’s The New Crystal Silence album from 2007.
- Tim’s concert works continue to celebrate his expertise between modern composition and jazz.
- His creative arranging skills have won him much praise from such diverse artists as Jean Luc Ponty, John Patitucci, The Royal Holloway and Westminster Choirs, the Catalan National Cobla Group, the LSO, the London Session Orchestra, NYJO, as well as Chick Corea.
- In 2016, Tim premiered “ReFocus” (a re-imagining of the Getz / Sauter project of 1961 ‘Focus’) to a full house at London’s Wigmore Hall, which has finally been released in 2020.
- Garland is a founding member of Audio Network, and has written a wide variety of music for use with picture, conducting orchestras at Abbey Road, Angel, and Air Studios London, as well as many big band sessions.
- Garland has been a research professor in new music styles at both Newcastle University and The Royal Northern College Of Music, as well as a regular visiting professor at The Royal Academy Of Music London. He has led workshops around the world and been visiting artist at Leeds College of Music and Oriel College Oxford amongst others.
- Tim’s celebrated virtuosity as a saxophonist maintains his position as one of UK’s most unique and authentic jazz voices.
ZS: How did you become interested in playing music? How did you decided on the saxophone?
TG: I started playing the piano when I was 6. My dad was an amateur cellist and there were a lot of musicians elsewhere in the family who I did not necessarily know very well, but I knew there was a lot of music-making, so it was very natural for me to start piano lessons. I was really composing music from the moment I had a piano lesson, well before even coming across a saxophone. When I was 13 or 14, the music center I was going to was run by a saxophone player and during this time I had actually started playing clarinet, but soon realized that the saxophone looked a lot more fun. At this time, I was checking out a lot of jazz funk such as Grover Washington, Wilton Felder, The Crusaders, and a very young Bill Evans.
One turning point for me was listening to “Pools” from the band Steps Ahead with Michael Brecker. Wow – Brecker’s saxophone solo on “Pools”- I did not realize you could even play that on a saxophone and shortly after that I was listening to Three Quartets with Chick Corea.
In my mid-teens, since I had a mixture of having a lot of harmony together (from playing the piano and having some classical clarinet lessons), the saxophone seemed pretty easy by comparison. My mother was fine about me playing the saxophone, but my dad being quite musically conservative was a bit more skeptical thinking “is a saxophone a real instrument?”, but I ended up getting one!
Whilst learning the saxophone, I was primarily self-taught but three saxophone lessons stand out for me to this day:
When I was 18, I went to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London as a composer since I never stopped writing music. In my second year, I swapped from just composing to wanting to study something that was intuitive and improvisatory in nature. The three lessons I remember having were first from the classical player, John Harle.
John taught me a method to strengthen all the right muscles and focus on the diaphragm. I feel everyone needs something like this regardless of the genre of music they play. I was looking at Bach Preludes and Oboe Concertos to try and get the discipline on soprano sax.
The second lesson I took was with Stan Suzlmann, who is a wonderful British saxophone player and flautist. Stan taught me more about improvisation and at this time I was about 22 or 23.
At 24, I had my third lesson with the great Joe Lovano when I went to New York. We have met many times since. I really loved Joe’s approach to playing, especially listening to the Paul Motian Trio and my lesson with him in his NY loft was very memorable.
I gained so much sustenance from these three lessons that the material has lasted me for years and I even share this same knowledge to this day with my students. After my graduation ,which was a 3-year program, I was able to stay on for 1 more year to do an advanced solo studies course. I needed that extra year and during this time I was looking at flute and the bass clarinet as much as I could while also still composing. Upon graduation, I started my own band because I had so many ideas of what I wanted to try, so the best plan was to lead my own band. If you’ve tried it, you know the work required(!) – but it allowed me to try out what worked as a player and a writer.
I found this was a great way to develop my own personality as well as self-discovery. In addition to leading my own group, I was sideman on 2 or 3 other projects and during these times I was able to develop some long lasting friendships, one being with the pianist Jason Rebello who was a year below me at The Guildhall and one of my oldest friends. This type of long term friend is one reason you go to college – you learn as much from your peers as you do your teachers.
From an educational standpoint, not too long after I graduated, I was asked to join the saxophone department of a summer school, and this naturally led to me being one of the teachers of the course. Over the last 20 years, I have been on and off as a professor at the Royal Academy of Music which hosts some of the U.K’s most advanced students – it’s very international as well.
One of the main reasons I taught there was to get my ass kicked because there were, and are, so many great young guns, it helped me keep abreast of what was going on and realize how small a gap there was between being a student and a professional.
ZS: What was something you wished you were taught at University to prepare you better upon graduation?
TG: There was a business course that occurred during our final year and with the arrogance of youth, I chose not to opt for it, which probably was not a good idea! This was shortly before the digital revolution, so the people who were teaching us would have probably struggled even more than us, suddenly having to get used to everything becoming internet-based. I think everyone at my age was struggling a little bit with the speed at which we had to learn to promote ourselves online. We’re all more used to it now, but it was the very last thing I thought about as a young musician.
I remember buying my first laptop computer shortly before my daughter was born around the age of 29 because I realized I’d fall behind without being computer-literate – I’d not be part of my daughters world.
My advice, I suppose, wouldn’t be relevant because all the kids today are naturally so much better at doing this than we were. Advice that IS relevant is the endeavor to develop one’s sense of concentration, and develop the ability to stick to one thing long-term.
I believe there is so much distraction within the digital world. If you think what produced the really great players, it will be an excellence honed from being present in the moment with just them and the music.
From my experience teaching, I notice the students who progress the most are really the ones who have that long-term focus. One final piece of advice I would give is that the piano is like the king of instruments. The better you play the piano, the more sure your footing will be as you get into the details of playing good jazz. Will Vinson and Chris Potter are two examples of great saxophone players who are also great piano players.
ZS: As you progressed as a student to where you are today, who were your main influences growing up as well as who have you been checking out lately?
TG: At a young age I came across Tony Coe, Zoot Sims, then later, Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker and Joe Henderson.
Recently, I have been returning to Coltrane but there was a period of checking out Stan Getz. This resulted in the creation of Refocus; which is looking back at Stan Getz’s Focus album, I started this in 2015, it took four years to complete.
I have been really fascinated by some of Ben Wendel’s new material as well as one of my favorite UK players Julian Arguelles’ music. I also listen to a lot of classical music and I always go back to Henry Dutilleux (French composer); his harmony is absolutely beautiful. Most recently, I was listening to some Seamus Blake playing the soprano saxophone and he is a fantastic player.
ZS: What are some key lessons you’ve learned playing the saxophone that you have passed on to your students? What do you find yourself practicing these days?
TG: One thing is to think in terms of intervals and what the effect is, focusing on the interval between the notes rather than the notes themselves. It might encourage you to make different choices and is a way of expanding what might otherwise be a standard jazz language.
For example, if you take a bebop phrase and displace two or three of the notes by a fourth or augmented fourth it modifies the whole phrase in a very cool way, still retaining its link with established jazz language.
I try and create technical exercises by linking them directly to material I’m learning, standard tunes and the like. If you take a standard like “But Beautiful” or “Stella By Starlight”, a mid-tempo version of this might get you practicing playing triplets for example. Different tempos will inspire different aspects of improvisation, which can lead to honing in on specific phrases, not learned from a book but generated directly from an endeavor to be musically engaged with a tune.
I personally carry manuscript paper with me all the time and I would encourage people to develop their own exercises rather than rely on books.
Once you identify an area while practicing a tune that you are not able to play, this would be a great time to develop an exercise to focus on your blind spots. You can then write something down and write it in about 3 different keys and then move on to practicing that exercise, expanding it to include three further keys. It’s an organic way of developing a language.
I also remember listening to a lot of piano players such as Keith Jarrett. I remember listening to Jarrett playing a great ii-V-I phrase over a standard and once transcribing it, noting that it was an 11 note tone-row! It was so beautiful, I remember writing it down and learning this phrase in several keys.
ZS: How have you adjusted to COVID? What have you found to be most challenging?
TG: I have become more and more enthralled with writing. I have a studio that was finished literally 2 or 3 weeks before lockdown in March. I really survive on commissions and orchestrating rather than primarily gigging on the saxophone.
My Winter Encounter series has kept things busy. I invited some great musicians into the studio and since nobody was playing live, we were able to simulate the same type of energy I would experience on stage which was beautifully filmed and recorded with an honest – no overdubs – approach!
It’s also been a time to reassess my sax setup since I really like the sound I get when playing on slightly harder reeds, which comes with its own challenges.
ZS: As a musician as well as composer, what do you find the most challenging part when working on a new piece of music?
TG: It would depend on what piece I was working on. If it is an extended orchestral piece, I would focus on looking at details but maintaining a really good architect’s eye. If the composition is for a smaller group of musicians, the more you encourage the “inner-life” of the piece and allow the players to invest themselves in it, the better. I think Herbie said one of his favorite pieces written was “Maiden Voyage” because it was so simple but its inner-life was so strong.
As a jazz composer you need to think about how creative are the “holes” you leave. Sometimes it’s a matter of using notation to create a vibe. As soon as you feel that vibe is there, stop writing and leave the rest to the players. Knowing when to stop writing can be a challenge for me sometimes because I love composing so much there is a danger of over-writing.
If you really want to develop as a musician, you might like to write in those keys, registers, and tempos that you need to work on. These pieces turn into study pieces.
ZS: When it comes to practicing, what is your process for maintaining your current skill as well as expanding on what you already know?
TG: I might work on long tones and patterns around different diminished and altered scales with a metronome. One thing I like to do is take tunes I already know and put them into a different time signatures. This is a way of challenging ones dependence on muscle memory! Another concept is I would play a whole solo just playing triplets, or anything but eight notes.
I try to spend as little time reading dots as possible, but the downside of that is that my sight reading is not as good as it should be perhaps! Sometimes it feels like the music begins when the reading stops!
ZS: Is there something you would like to share that you believe many people don’t know about you?
TG: Ever since I was about 16, I have always had an interest in Buddhism and related areas of spirituality. I know that has informed a lot of the music I am interested in.
ZS: What are your thoughts on the importance of the equipment? Do you find yourself changing much or sticking with the same gear?
TG: To me, mastering the tenor is a battle. I have had about 9 different mouthpieces and one of them was made for me by Freddie Gregory. I have 3 tenors now which are the SBA, Borgani, and the Eastman 52nd Street, and they are all different and I love them all. I realize now that it’s not going to be about the instrument, but really about me and what feels comfortable.
- Soprano: R1 Rampone & Cazzani one piece curved soprano (Silver) & Two Yanagisawa Solid Silver Soprano’s, one from 20 years ago and the S-W037 series
- Alto: Selmer Mark VI
- Tenor: SBA (main horn), Borgani (Frosted silver), Eastman 52nd St tenor
- Soprano: Otto Link Hard Rubber (7*)
- Alto: Otto Link Hard Rubber (7*)
- Tenor: Otto Link Hard Rubber (8*)
- Standard Neck Strap