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Tom Varner

Background information
Birth name Tom Varner
Born June 17, 1957 (1957-06-17) (age 52)
Morristown, NJ, USA
Genres Jazz
Occupations Musician, Composer, Teacher
Instruments French horn
Website Tom Varner official site

Tom Varner (b. Morristown, New Jersey, United States, June 17, 1957) is an American jazz horn (French horn) player and composer.

Varner studied piano in his youth with Capitola Dickerson of Summit, New Jersey.[1][2] He holds a B.M. degree (1979) from the New England Conservatory of Music, where he studied jazz improvisation and composition with Ran Blake, George Russell, and Jaki Byard, and horn with Thomas Newell. He also studied briefly in 1976 with jazz horn pioneer Julius Watkins. Varner also holds an M.A. (2005) from the City College of New York, where he studied with Jim McNeely, Scott Reeves, and John Patitucci.

He has performed and recorded with Steve Lacy, Dave Liebman, George Gruntz, John Zorn, Bobby Watson, La Monte Young, Miles Davis with Quincy Jones, Bobby Previte, Jim McNeely, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, the Mingus Orchestra, Franz Koglmann, and appears on over 70 albums. He also has 11 albums out as a composer/leader, with sidemen such as Steve Wilson, Tony Malaby, Ed Jackson, Ellery Eskelin, Tom Rainey, Cameron Brown, Drew Gress, Matt Wilson, Kenny Barron, Victor Lewis, Fred Hopkins, and Billy Hart. Varner has been in the Down Beat Critics Poll Top Ten annually since the mid-1990s. He has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Doris Duke Foundation, and has been a resident at the MacDowell, Blue Mountain Center, and Centrum arts colonies.

Varner's first two recordings as a leader were influenced by Ornette Coleman, Steve Lacy, Charles Mingus, Anthony Braxton, and minimalists such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and featured Varner's horn with alto sax (Ed Jackson), bass (Fred Hopkins or Ed Schuller) and drums (Billy Hart), with no chordal instrument. His third recording was a more "straight-ahead" jazz project, with Kenny Barron, Jim Snidero, Mike Richmond, and Victor Lewis. The fourth project was a Sonny Rollins-influenced trio of horn, bass (Mike Richmond) and drums (Bobby Previte). From that point (1987) on, most of Varner's work as a leader was for a quintet of horn and two saxes, bass, and drums, with frequent guest artists augmenting the ensembles. Varner has combined contemporary chamber music with jazz and free improvisation in almost all of his subsequent projects. His newest work (finished in 2008, released 2009), Heaven and Hell, is for a tentet of three brass, five reeds, and bass and drums.

Varner lived in New York City from 1979 to 2005, and now lives in Seattle.




As leader

  • 1981 - Tom Varner Quartet (Soul Note)
  • 1983 - Motion/Stillness (Soul Note)
  • 1985/1997 - Jazz French Horn (Soul Note)
  • 1987 - Covert Action (New Note)
  • 1991 - Long Night Big Day (New World)
  • 1993 - The Mystery of Compassion (Soul Note)
  • 1997 - Martian Heartache (Soul Note)
  • 1998 - The Window Up Above (New World)
  • 1998 - The Swiss Duos (Unit)
  • 1999 - Swimming (OmniTone)
  • 2001 - Second Communion (OmniTone)
  • 2009 - Heaven and Hell (OmniTone)


  1. ^ Allen Huotari (June 1999). "Interview with Tom Varner". all about jazz. Retrieved 2009-11-07. "I saw Duke Ellington with my Mom and my piano teacher, Ms. Capitola Dickerson, in 1970... Later, at my Mom's funeral, Ms. Dickerson sang "There Is A Balm In Gilead.""  
  2. ^ Luigi Santosuosso ( "TOM VARNER INTERVIEW". Frank Tafuri. Retrieved 2009-11-07. "We all (I have two older sisters and one younger brother) took piano lessons also, starting around 8 years old. I loved my teacher Ms. Capitola Dickerson (she would play 78s of Art Tatum for me), but I was a terrible pianist!"  

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