Friday, January 21, 2011

The Two Questions: Tango Jazz Edition

Since the earliest days when Jelly Roll Morton combined jazz with what he called the "Latin tinge," there has been the incorporation of elements from the music of other cultures. One of the latest and most innovative performers to carry on this tradition is Argentine born bassist and producer, Pablo Aslan. While maintaining the elegance and melancholy of traditional tango, he has brought it into the 21st Century by combining it with contemporary jazz improvisation. Pablo has performed and recorded with a long list of other performers and groups from Argentina and the U.S. Among them are Adrian Iaies, Paquito D’Rivera, Marco Granados, the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Yo Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Shakira, Joe Lovano, Gary Burton, Lalo Schifrin, and the New World Symphony. Pablo has also been involved in many prestigious musical projects such as The Tango Group with composer/pianist Roger Davidson, the New York Buenos Aires Connection and New York Tango Trio with bandoneonist Raul Jaurena, and as featured artist of the Lincoln Center Institute.

Furthermore, Pablo Aslan has done numerous recordings, and his latest release on Zoho Music, "Tango Grill," has been nominated for a Grammy in Latin Jazz.

I was very glad when Pablo agreed to answer my questions. The second has been tweaked to reflect his unique musical vision.

1. Why did you decide on a career in music?

Love of Music made me decide! Besides having a visceral attraction to music since I was a little kid, I discovered as a teenager that I had a certain facility for playing music, particularly the bass. I did not grow up in a musical household, and music education in high school was a joke. I took lessons wherever I could, but had my eye on an education in the US. So the big decision in my life was to leave Argentina as an 18 year old and come to the US. I first came to California to study (UCSC, Cal Arts, UCLA), and after 10 years moved to NY to go into it deeper. Early on in California I started playing gigs (jazz, symphony, latin jazz, tango), and over the years I’ve made my living primarily as a musician. I love the lifestyle, the work, the co-workers. I’ve also worked a bit as a producer, both for live shows and in the studio, and in several aspects of the music business. Music has taken me around the world and introduced me to so many aspects of life and so many great people that my life is richer because of my career choice.

2. What inspired you to blend jazz and tango?

My parent’s record collection had a bit of Beatles, Bossa Nova, Piazzolla , jazz, and classical music, so that’s how I started forming my aesthetic. In my teen years I started buying progressive rock and jazz records (particularly ECM, but also Mingus, Coltrane, etc.), and when I moved to the US, I got into tango (beyond Piazzolla), while I completed my studies in classical music. At some point I became interested in searching for a mode of expression that resonated completely with who I am and what I love about music. In a more general sense, it was a search for identity as an Argentine-American. As much as I loved playing jazz and classical music, I did not see myself being 100% immersed in them as a career. Tango struck me like a lightning bolt and brought it all together, and gave me a creative place to go towards. A deciding moment was to hear bassist Charlie Haden play duets wtih bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi. I felt like the answer to my search was right in front of me. That was in 1986. I’ve been on that path ever since, and I feel fortunate after so many years to have been able to unlock a few doors in what now is generally called Tango Jazz.

To see videos of Pablo in performance, here's a link to his You Tube channel:

To get more information about him than can be included in this short post, go to Pablo's site at

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Two Questions Redux

My latest blogpost subject is the only jazz artist I personally know who has played with Blood Sweat & Tears. His name is Tom Guarna, and he is an extraordinary guitarist who has been sideman with a long list of bands and individual jazz greats including the Yellowjackets, Randy Brecker, Lenny White, Bob Dorough, Buddy DeFranco, Javon Jackson, Les McCann, Joe Locke, the Mingus Orchestra, and Billy Drummond. He has gigged very recently with pianists George Colligan and Kerry Politzer. Tom has led his own groups in clubs such as the Blue Note, Sweet Rhythm, Fat Cat and Smalls. Furthermore, he holds an undergraduate degree from The New School and a Masters Degree from The Juilliard School.

Tom Guarna enthusiastically agreed to answer the familiar two questions. Those answers now follow.

1. Why did you decide on a career in music?

Well, a career in music really decided on me. My father played guitar and would have people over the house to play. He would also take me to band rehearsals. There was a lot of music happening around the house, so when I really developed a serious interest in music in my late teens, it was a natural progression.

2. What is it you love about jazz that made you decide to focus on that type of music?

I grew up listening to classic rock, funk and R and B. Then I got into the classic Jazz Rock groups like Return To Forever and Weather Report and Tony Williams Lifetime. Once I started to research all the artists that these band members worked with, I discovered Miles and Coltrane and I was hooked. I just kept working back from there listening to Bird, Monk, Bud Powell, Ellington, Mingus, etc. I have always loved to improvise. Even when I was playing in rock and funk bands I would always rather play improvised solos rather than play the solos on the recordings. The tunes and wide harmonic palette that jazz offered was something that drew me in as well.

If you'd like to experience Tom Guarna live, he has an upcoming gig with the John Benitez Group. It's happening Monday, January 24th, at the 55 Bar, from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

The next best thing would be to check out a You Tube video of him at Fat Cat, performing his original composition, "Shambleau". You can see it by clicking here.

For further information about Tom and his music, go to his website, .