“Music is an expression of the soul and I always try to speak through my horn,” says Gregory Tardy. “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 to playing any style of music.”
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 offers. 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 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 listened to the duo recording of John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk playing “Monk’s Mood”, and then immediately 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. “This proved to be great move”, Tardy says. “ There were all of these outstanding players down there-many of which went on to be well known, like Nicholas Payton, Brian Blade, Victor Goines, Mark Turner, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis and far too many others to mention. Many, like I, came to study with Ellis Marsalis; some were just hanging out. It was there that I really started to get my playing together.” While in New Orleans, Tardy also played with some of the local brass bands, did some gigging with the Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, and groups of all styles. But he never stopped pursuing jazz.
In 1992, Tardy recorded his first solo project, Crazy Love. 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 lasted many years and produced several highly acclaimed recordings. He has also performed and/or recorded alongside 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, bringing his clarinet out of retirement, using it on recordings by Tom Harrell, Ohad Talmor/Steve Swallow, Stefon Harris, Chris Potter, 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, Serendipity, was released on Impulse Records. 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. Four years later, Tardy began recording for the Steeplechase label. His releases to date are: The Truth, Steps of Faith, He Knows My Name, The Strongest Love, Monuments, Standards & More, Hope, With Songs of Joy, and Chasing After the Wind. He recently recorded a duo project with BIll Frisell which will be released in 2019 on vinyl for the Newvelle Records Label. Tardy continues to perform internationally as well as teach at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
“When I listened to jazz over 20 years ago, it put me on a journey to learn, explore and create in the style. And the beauty of the genre is that you can spend a lifetime learning, growing and exploring and it never gets boring.” All About Jazz sums up Tardy’s career so far by writing, “Tardy already has his own voice and is on track to help write the next chapter in jazz history. This is exactly what more and more potential jazz listeners should be hearing.”