Born: February 3, 1966 Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
Tardy says, “Music is an expression of the soul and I always try to speak through my horn. I once heard an older musician say ‘it is better to be felt than to be heard’. I never forgot that. That is my approach regardless of what form or style I am playing.”
Born into a musical family, Gregory Tardy began his musical career studying classical clarinet. In high school, Gregory excelled in music, winning many awards and scholarships. While studying with renowned clarinetists Russell Dagon and Jack Snavely, Tardy began preparing for a symphony career. Over time, he began to be asked to play saxophone, to fill in missing gaps in various high school and college ensembles. Although he never practiced the saxophone seriously, Tardy began getting calls to play local funk gigs in the Milwaukee area. At the prodding of his older brother, Tardy finally explored the music of John Coltrane, and determined to be a jazz musician.
His passion for the saxophone took over his studies and soon his clarinet was gathering dust. At this time, he moved to St. Louis and after a year of performing on the jazz and blues scene, he decided to move back to his birthplace, New Orleans, in order to focus his jazz studies even further. While in New Orleans, Tardy played with some of the local brass bands and also gigged with the Neville Brothers, a local reggae band and even a rap group. But he never stopped pursuing jazz. He had the opportunity to perform and learn from many local greats and was a member of bands led by Nicholas Payton, Jason and Ellis Marsalis.
In 1992, Tardy recorded his first solo project, Crazy Love (featuring a special guest performance by his mother, vocalist JoAnne Tardy, who is also a classical-turned jazz performer). 1992 is also the year that he was picked up by Elvin Jones Jazz Machine-a relationship that lasted several years. During the time with the legendary Elvin Jones, Tardy felt that it was finally time to move to the Big Apple. In New York he went on to perform and record with an extremely large array of prominent artists including: Tom Harrell, Dave Douglas, Wynton Marsalis, Jay McShann, Steve Coleman, Betty Carter, James Moody, Bill Frisell, Rashied Ali , John Patitucci, and many more. In 1999, Tardy began to play in various bands led by the great Andrew Hill; a relationship that has lasted many years and has produced several highly acclaimed recordings. He has also performed and/or recorded along with many other notable saxophonists, such as Joe Lovano, Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Dewey Redman, Ravi Coltrane, and many others. In more recent years, Tardy has gone full circle, by bringing his clarinet out of retirement, using it on recordings by Tom Harrell, Ohad Talmor/Steve Swallow, Stefan Harris, and Andrew Hill.
“In my band, I try to explore new things, although I usually keep the tradition in the back of my head, as well. I really respect the tradition…but I try not to let it stop me from going for stuff that I hear. I also respect what’s going on now, in jazz-and it influences me.” In March 1998, Tardy’s first major label project as a leader was released for Impulse Records, Serendipity. He received great critical acclaim for this record and was nominated as Best Debut Artist for the New York Jazz Awards. In the fall he toured Europe on the Rising Stars Tour and when he returned he began to plan his next record. A casualty of the merger of Verve and GRP, he decided to record for a smaller label, J Curve Records. His third album, The Hidden Light, was released in April 2000 to rave reviews. In 2001, Tardy explored freer elements of jazz on a CD entitled, Abundance. Recorded on the Palmetto label, this CD also received much critical acclaim. His latest CD, The Truth, is being released on the Steeplechase label in the early winter of 2005, featuring special guest Marcus Printup, pianist Helen Sung, bassist Sean Conly, and drummer Jaimeo Brown. On all of these CD’s, one thing that is obvious about Tardy, is that he is a serious Christian who dedicates all of his music to God. “Y’shua is Jesus’ name in Hebrew. I dedicated my life to him in 1996. Since he is the most important aspect of my life, it is only obvious that this comes out in my music.”
Tardy continues to play his own music and perform in many great bands. He has also become active as an educator, teaching private lessons, and doing clinics around the world. The New York Times says that Tardy is “One of the bright hopes…Tardy sounds like a seeker. He has a yearning sound, as though he’s climbing toward absolution and salvation in every solo.” When you hear him play you may hear his roots in funk, blues, classical, gospel or various forms of jazz, but you can be sure you will always hear his soul.