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Tom Heasley

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Tom Heasley began as a tuba player in the San Francisco Bay Area avant-garde scene, performing contemporary music and supplying the odd tuba backing for various jazz and rock projects. At the turn of the millennium he started to play solo using a rack of delays and digital loops, developed an adventurous ambient sound, and turned his career around, releasing acclaimed CDs on Hypnos and Innova Recordings. On these, his music has much more to do with J.A. Deane and Robert Rich than with other experimental tuba players like Joe Daley and Oren Marshall. Heasley follows the typical Bay Area profile for the generation of musicians born in the late '60s/early '70s. His musical studies put him in contact with composers such as Alvin Curran, Pauline Oliveros, and Fred Frith. To make a living as a tuba player requires flexibility and open-mindedness as jobs are not that numerous. So Heasley worked in all the traditional genres associated with his instrument: street fanfares, German oom-pah bands, orchestras, even Chinese funeral bands. But he also recorded TV and film music and played for two years in the West Coast unit of Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra. His career in avant-garde music picked up toward the end of his studies, in 1996. That year Oliveros invited him to join her Deep Listening Band for a concert at Mills College. Eugene Chadbourne also picked him up for his project Insect Attracter. The next three years saw Heasley hard at work, premiering works by Curran, Jonathan Harvey, and Anne Lebaron while performing with a eclectic selection of musicians ranging from Wadada Leo Smith and Gerry Hemingway to ex-Can singer Malcolm Mooney. Meanwhile he formed his first groups, including the Tom Heasley Trio with free jazz veteran Bobby Bradford on cornet and guitarist Ken Rosser. In 2000, Heasley ended up with a very quiet schedule. He turned the situation into a blessing of sorts when he began to experiment with digital delays and live multi-track looping. This technology allowed him to stack low tuba notes, creating shifting drones to which he sometimes added throat singing. After trying out his new approach on stage a few times, he booked studio time with ambient music wizard Robert Rich and recorded his first solo album. Impressed, Rich pushed the master tapes into the hands of Hypnos Records and Where the Earth Meets the Sky came out in May 2001. Since then Heasley performs mostly solo, exploring a niche that sits somewhere between experimental music and new age ambient. A second CD, On the Sensations of Tone, was released by Innova in April 2002. ~ François Couture

Years Active:

'90s, '00s