When the DC-area based multi-instrumental wizard and all around percussion renaissance man Tom Teasley asked me to write liner notes for his latest global percussion release All The World’s A Stage it got me wondering about the evolution of one who self-identifies as a jazz percussionist, yet has so successfully broadened his base to include theater, teaching across far reaches of the planet, and seemingly all manner of expressions in the percussion universe. I mean, what kind of brain exercises is this cat doing that his horizons appear so limitless? Obviously some questions for Tom Teasley were in order. But first some video to introduce you to the world of Tom Teasley.
1) You’ve always self-identified as a jazz musician, yet your career is so broad-based. How have you gone about diversifying yourself as a percussionist?
I studied orchestral percussion at Peabody Conservatory when I was just out of high school.While there I began freelancing in orchestras and presenting school programs.My teacher, Charles Memphis, was of Greek decent and began exposing me to middle eastern rhythms which would have a profound impact on my music. Later I began setting the poetry of Langston Hughes and others to my original music for my project Word-Beat with my friend and colleague Charles Williams. That setting of poetry to music was a natural stepping stone to the theater work I do now. The most important aspect however is that I always keep an open mind on where my music can live and still maintain the integrity I want.
2) As far as your overall career is concerned, have these diversification efforts been based more on maintaining steady employment or on broadening yourself as a musician?
The employment has always been a result of my sincere desire to create something new, worthwhile and true to my esthetic. I never feel like any of these “alternative” projects are a compromise. Rather each one informs the other and result in a deeper well that I have to draw from for any future projects. I feel like if I had taken the mindset of diversifying only to create income the result would have had less integrity and therefore less value in every way.
3) Again, from the perspective of a jazz musician, how has your theater and education work affected your perspective on music-making?
The theater work has allowed me to tap into an emotional space that I had previously not explored.The best jazz musicians ” tell a story” with the development of their solos. Having the opportunity to set an existing story to my music allows me to explore that concept in a very real way that I can take with me to all other musical applications. I’m now setting silent movies and experimental film to my original music. I’ve discovered that guideposts in the film create a form to build on. This is a natural extension and perhaps more abstract than a twelve bar blues or 32 bar song form but I find many similarities. I also travel as a cultural envoy for the State Department collaborating with indigenous musicians. As I share American jazz concepts with them and I learn about their music and the culture from which it comes I grow as a person and reflect that in my music.
Poetry, Prose, Percussion and Song chronicles Tom Teasley’s fertile collaboration with poet-wordsmith Charles Williams
4) Your new record seems based mainly on your stage and cinematic experiences; is that a fair assessment?
The new record is based on my theater and cinematic experiences. It is also equally based on my extensive travel and collaborations,mainly in the middle east. I remember being invited to perform with Anachid, the premier Palestinian singing and drumming group in a refugee camp in The West Bank during Ramadan. I also remember presenting a drum clinic in the rural marshland in Iraq where the attendees came at risk to their safety to share music, rhythm and friendship.I remember being in war torn Baghdad collaborating with members of the Iraqi Symphony and virtuoso oud master Dahraid Fadhill. All of these memories manifest in the music I create regardless of the venue.
5) What’s next for Tom Teasley?
I’m looking forward to promoting the new record, “All the World’s A Stage”. Soon to be released is an educational video of my jazz approaches to a variety of ethnic drums including djembe, dumbek, riqq, cajon and many others. This is a culmination of my study of western classical music, my studies with master jazz drummer Joe, Morello and my global music adventures. Soon I open Mary Zimmernan’s “Metamorphoses” with Constellation Theatre Company. In the fall I’ll create original music and perform live with The Folger Theatre in “Conference of the Birds” based on the the Sufi poetry of Farid ud-Din Attar. I hope to soon to have a a video of some avant garde films from the 1920s set to my original music. I’m looking at some residencies in art galleries where I create sound installations that have an opening performance followed by a recorded exhibit. I look forward to following the muse and the music and letting it tell me where to go!