Born in New Jersey on June 17, 1957, Tom Varner has distinguished himself as both the foremost jazz French horn player of his generation and also as a highly creative arranger breaking new ground in small-group jazz.
Influenced on his instrument by the great Julius Watkins (with whom he studied privately), Varner got a degree from the New England Conservatory, where he studied with Ran Blake, George Russell, and Jaki Byard, which helps explain his music’s eclectic character, which thrives on stylistic crossbreeding. His compositions can partake of the serialism of Berg and Webern as well as Thelonious Monk’s angular bop structures, Ornette Coleman’s pantonal melodicism, and funky 12-bar blues. Varner formed a group with saxophonist Ed Jackson while in Boston, and they have frequently worked together since Varner moved to New York City in 1979.
Varner has performed at the Parallel Worlds (Vienna Koncerthaus), Vancouver, Moers, and Groningen Jazz Festivals and is a regular at the Knitting Factory and other downtown clubs in New York City with such guests as Lee Konitz, Bobby Previte, Ellery Eskelin, Mark Feldman, Mark Dresser, Lindsey Horner, Drew Gress, Dave Tronzo, Steve Wilson, Tony Malaby, and Tom Rainey. As a sideman he has performed and recorded with, among others, Steve Lacy, Dave Liebman, George Gruntz, John Zorn, Bobby Watson, LaMonte Young, and Miles Davis with Quincy Jones at Montreux ’91, appearing on over 50 albums.
He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and has won polls in Down Beat (1983, 1998, 1999) and Jazz Times (1990, 1993). Steve Holtje