Inspiration to the Max: An Interview with Saxophonist Tom Walsh

Date Posted: March 15, 2018

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Get to know Vandoren Artist Tom Walsh

When did you decide you wanted to be a musician?

I started playing piano when I was 5 and started saxophone when I was 10 in the school band. It wasn’t much longer after that I kind of felt like I wanted to have music be my profession. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I had already decided.

Who have been some of the most influential people in your life?

My mother is very musical so that was influential. When we got a piano in our house, that’s when I got interested in playing an instrument.

Otherwise, all of my music teachers - my first real saxophone teacher was a guy name Bill Uher in the Chicago area (I lived in Buffalo Grove). My saxophone teacher in high school – Mike Tracy who now teaches at the University of Louisville – made a really big difference in my progress. Then David Baker who taught jazz at Indiana University, was somebody I encountered when I was in high school through the Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshop. Eugene Rousseau who I studied with at Indiana University. And there are other people like David Liebman who has been a huge influence.

Tom Walsh Interview 1

Any musical inspirations?

I started going to the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops when I was in high school. The musicians that I saw there performing live were a great inspiration. And so many of the great jazz musicians. The list is incredibly long! (Laughs) I could give you 50 people right now…

On the classical side, studying with Eugene Rousseau, he’s one of the great masters and is a beautiful musician that’s influenced me. Incredible.

"You have to let go in that moment." - Tom Walsh

Out of those influential people, what’s one piece of advice that you could share and has stuck with you throughout your years of making music?

The piece of advice is you have to become very good at what you do. You have to do your homework, be prepared, and at the same time you have to be willing to take chances and jump into new situations, and do the best that you can. This is like what improvisers do: you do your preparation and then you go on the band stand and trust that to carry you through and try not to hold onto that too much. You have to let go in that moment. That’s how it works in general with life. You have to prepare, do your homework, and then once you get into a situation, you have to trust your instincts.

What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced as a musician and how have you overcome them?

Challenges keep changing throughout your life. It’s an ongoing challenge to just know what to focus on and how to continue to improve. I think that sums it up in the fewest words possible: Knowing what to focus on and how to continue to improve.

Do you have memorable performances?

I do but I can’t remember any of them! (Laughs) Well, it’s funny because you have some of those moments and they inspire you, but you don’t remember all of them. Not too long ago I performed with New Orleans legend Dr. John at the Palladium in Indianapolis. It’s a really beautiful venue and the band was amazing! The drummer was Herlin Riley and the bass player was another great Louisiana musician – Roland Guerin. Nicholas Payton was the guest artist and the theme was Louis Armstrong’s music which they had rearranged in a more contemporary, New Orleans style. I got to trade solos with Nicholas Payton on one of the tunes, and with Herlin Riley on the drums and the rhythm section, the bass player, the guitarist, Dr. John, the piano, the groove was just unbelievable! It was a very memorable experience.

What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your life as a musician?

For me, I enjoy doing a lot of different things. I’ve had the opportunity to play lead alto in some great big bands and to play in combo settings with some really great musicians. Also, sit in an orchestra and play some of the great orchestral excerpts for saxophone. I’ve been able to be a soloist in front of a concert band and be in situations like I’ve just described – playing with Dr. John – as well as playing musicals, doubling on flute and clarinet. I really enjoy the variety of all of those different things. That and having the opportunity to travel to places like Brazil, South Africa, China, Japan, and Europe to play and teach. I never imagined I would go to those places. It’s a privilege to have those opportunities come about through music and it’s fulfilling to be able to move into those different musical situations and make music with great musicians.

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