Reviews that mention Tom Varner

October 14, 2013

Lest We Forget:

Julius Watkins (1921-1977)
By Ken Waxman

A stylist whose innovative work in the ‘50s and ‘60s putting the French horn into a jazz context is analogous to what Coleman Hawkins did for the tenor saxophone and Louis Armstrong for the trumpet 30 years earlier, Julius Watkins almost singlehandedly created a viable role for the curved horn during the bop and post-bop eras.

Born in Detroit on October 10, 1921, Watkins began playing the French horn at nine in his school band and continued his studies at that city’s famous Cass Technical High School. Although he also played trumpet during a three year stint in Ernie Fields’ territory band in the mid-‘40s, by the end of the decade he had already recorded on his chosen instrument on sides with drummer Kenny Clarke and vocalist Babs Gonzales and toured as a hornist with pianist Milt Buckner’s band. After studying at the Manhattan School of Music in 1952, he spent the next quarter century in NYC. Within a few years he had recorded a couple of 10-inch LPs for Blue Note, featuring heavyweight such as tenor saxophonists Frank Foster or Hank Mobley, drummers Kenny Clarke or Art Blakey and bassist Oscar Pettiford. MORE

January 15, 2001


The Swiss Duos
Unit UTR 4128

Recitals involving a French horn and a piano may bring forth images of self-conscious chamber musicians working their way through the baroque canon or Lieder ohne Worte, but when the duo involves Tom Varner and a quartet of Switzerland's most distinctive keyboardists, the results are decidedly different.

Sliding smoothly between so-called classical music, improv and jazz, American Varner has shown his mettle in variety of settings over the past few years. This low-key, but impressive disc casts his talents in even bolder relief with only piano along to fill out the tunes. With two dozen on tap, ranging in length from 46 seconds to over seven minutes, the hornist mixes and matches styles to ensure we don't lose interest.


June 2, 2000


OmniTone 11903

Although Tom Varner is probably best known as one of the very few improvising French horn players, this CD highlights his exceptional compositional and arrangement skills. Like many contemporary musicians with a convincing knowledge of jazz, classical and pop music, he's able to employ it without resorting to pastiche or forced congruency.

Take the showpiece "Seven Miniatures for Mark Feldman", for instance. Ranging from an eyeblinking one minute to two minutes and 31 seconds, these are mini-recital pieces, designed to show off the violinist's many talents and range from nearly straightforward chamber music presentations to herky-jerky carnival tunes. As expected, Feldman rises to the challenge and then some.


March 29, 2000


The Soul of Grace
Soul Note 121317-2

While large institutions like Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center trip over one another funding jazz repertory bands in an attempt to fill their (overpriced) seats, more contemporary improvisers scramble to find locations in which and ensembles to perform their compositions.

That's why the Manhattan New Music Project (MNMP) came into existence in 1990. It's designed to commission, showcase and record new works with different-sized ensembles. And this fine disc centers on the compositions of MNMP's artistic director, guitarist Paul Nash.