- I was born May 14, 1951 in Brooklyn, NY and grew up surrounded by music.
My mother was an opera singer and my father’s love of jazz introduced me to Charlie Parker and Lester Young before I could speak. I started piano at the age of five when my family moved to Farmingdale, LI. I was given my first saxophone through the music program in elementary school at age seven.
From there I took saxophone lessons, and played in school bands up to my senior year of high school. At that point I met Jeremy Wall and we started my first band. My senior year of high school was spent in Nurnberg, Germany where my father was working and I went to school on a U.S. Army Base. I played in R&B bands there that performed both for the Army and in German clubs. By then, I had been introduced to a lot of R&B and rock and started to mix those concepts together with my jazz base.
I returned to the States and enrolled at State University of New York at Buffalo. People in Buffalo just call it UB. I studied a good deal of classical and avant garde music in the music program there and played in some interesting avant garde ensembles. I studied saxophone in school with Edward Yadzinski, but I also studied outside with John Sadola who worked on my jazz technique. I was also fortunate around this time to meet Phil DiRe, a great tenor player from Buffalo, who was putting together the Buffalo Jazz Ensemble. Working with Phil in that group led to other collaborations which greatly expanded my perspective.
By my junior year in college, I had started working in the clubs in Buffalo and by the time I graduated I had steady work in the clubs. The next few years was spent playing in some great blues and R&B bands. It was at this time that I met Phil Brennan, another student at UB, who was to later become Spyro Gyra’s longtime manager. Buffalo had a booming music scene at the time, but after awhile I wanted to do something other than be a sideman. I then started doing some off night instrumental sessions in small clubs with Jeremy Wall. This work slowly (over a year) evolved into the band Spyro Gyra. In the band’s second year, Tom Schuman joined the band and started to share the keyboards with Jeremy. Tom has been the sole keyboardist since 1978.
Around 1976, I went into business with Rich Calandra, a local drummer who had aspirations to be a record producer. The two of us produced a number of local acts and, when there was studio time left over, we would record Spyro Gyra. The band’s first album slowly came together in this way.
Rich and I met with little success with our efforts with other groups, so we pressed 500 LP’s of Spyro Gyra on our own label with what little money we had left,. Within a year we had sold tens of thousands of records, signed a record deal and launched the band’s career. In 1978 Phil Brennan, who had been an informal business advisor during the recording of that first record, made it official and started working with me. In 1979, I moved to NYC to produce Morning Dance and lived there for four years. Catching the Sun, Carnaval and Freetime were also recorded during this time. My life was consumed with touring around the world, recording and writing.
Rich and I then purchased a turn-of-the-century stone farmhouse just outside of NYC and converted it into my own recording studio, BearTracks. This provided Spyro Gyra with a great recording environment. The studio stayed active for more than thirty years, eventually closing at the end of 2005.
Though I occasionally have recorded on records other than Spyro Gyra and have done other productions, (Dave Samuels and Tom Schuman), Spyro Gyra has been my main focus and has fulfilled most of my musical dreams. It has been over forty years of great music, great friendship and great times.
The rest of my life is filled with my love for painting, gardening, hiking and all things outdoors but most of all with my daughters Claire and Isabel and my son Alex. They, more than anyone or anything else, have brought me inspiration and contentedness.
Tom Schuman was born and raised in Buffalo, NY by his talented musical parents. His father, Wally, was a jazz bassist and his mother, Marion, was a jazz singer who met on the bandstand. Greatly influenced by this family of musicians, Tom began playing piano by ear at age six. His parents were reluctant to give him lessons because of their own struggles with the music business but when they heard him playing jazz chords, improvising and writing tunes at age seven, they felt compelled to provide him with all the musical support a child could possibly have.
Later, Tom began studying jazz theory, writing and arranging techniques as well as improvisational skills. He also gained a lot of experience jamming with his dad at home as well as sitting in with many musician friends around town.
Tom’s first “real” gig (other than church organist) was for his high school. He was asked to play the 1973 senior prom at a nearby banquet hall. Check this out! The hall had a dilapidated piano and when Tom pulled at the front of the piano the front legs buckled and the six-foot long, five hundred pound grand piano came crashing down on top of him! Luckily for Tom, he was not seriously hurt. But he had to finish out the gig with the piano resting on top of two garbage cans. To this day, he considers that to be the worst gig he ever played.
Tom quickly began playing with a lot of local pop and jazz bands after joining the musicians’ union. It was a great experience playing in night clubs at the age of sixteen. But more interesting and astonishing were the union gigs he ending up playing at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center and prisons like Attica, Albion and the Monroe County jail in Rochester. He played these gigs with a band called “The Existing Reality” and later a contemporary jazz band, “Birthright”.
Birthright gave Tom his first opportunity to compose and perform on a jazz record. While still only sixteen years old, he traveled to Europe to help promote and distribute Birthright’s “Breath of Life” record. He did radio interviews and sat in with a lot of European musicians. All of this contributed to a realistic perspective of the profession early in his life.
Returning to Buffalo, Tom performed in concerts featuring a variety of jazz artists including Mark Murphy, Sammy Noto, and Grant Green. He also became a frequent presence in local jazz clubs sitting in with other musicians. He particularly enjoyed sitting in with this new band in town led by Jay Beckenstein and Jeremy Wall. The music was fresh and vibrant. It seemed as though all the rhythms of the world were being shared and he had his first chance to play those weird synthesizers everyone was talking about. Apparently, Jay and Jeremy both liked his playing enough to invite him to perform on their recording project. They called it Spyro Gyra! He was only 16 years old. Well, the rest is history. Tom has performed on all of Spyro Gyra’s albums to date and has written or Co-written over forty tunes.
While Tom has enjoyed a long and critically acclaimed career composing and performing fusion and smooth jazz with Spyro Gyra, he is also an extraordinarily gifted classic jazz composer and pianist. As he moves forward with the expansion of his solo projects, his focus is on acoustic trio and quartet performances of classic jazz and standards.
He released his first solo record, “Extremities” in 1990 and has continued his solo projects along with Spyro Gyra performances. He has also had several guest appearances on albums of other artists.
Tom started his own label, JazzBridge Music in 1999. His first solo release on JazzBridge was the critically acclaimed “Into Your Heart”. Following his heart and passion for more traditional jazz music, especially piano trios his next release was the all acoustic jazz CD, “Schuman Nature”, which rose to number 27 on the Jazzweek charts. He then released the fresh and soulful “Deep Chill”, in 2005. In 2010, Tom released “Reflections Over Time”. This CD had a more diverse flavor to it paying homage to the late Joe Zawinul and Jimi Hendrix as well as some political giants of American history. His latest release on the JazzBridge label is “Designated Planets”. Featuring performances from Jeff Kashiwa and Steve Oliver, this CD catapults you to 12 different worlds he calls his designated planets.
- I was born April 28th, in the not too distant past, in Frederick, Maryland to Webster and Jeanette Lofton Ambush. I was preceded by my sister Cassandra, and followed by brother Peter and sister Tracy. Since my sister is two years older, and my brother five years younger, I guess I’d be considered the middle child. A psychological profile I think, would confirm this.
I attended Ubana Elementary School in Ubana, MD, West Frederick Middle, and Frederick High School. Although I managed above average grades, my mom was constantly bombarded with the dreaded “Talks too much in class” notes. I played in the jazz ensemble, ran track, and play on the football team.
I started playing the bass at twelve when my buddies decided to start a band. Since one of them already had a drumset, I became the bass player.(I’ve been a frustrated drummer ever since.) We began playing rock and roll by such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Led Zepellin, Black Sabbath, Sly and the Family Stone, The Isley Brothers, Parliament/Funkadelic, and others.
A few years later, my cousin Allen turned me on to Return to Forever and Stanley Clarke. I was never the same. We formed a band playing “fusion” and straight ahead jazz, while also playing funk and R&B in other bands. Incidentally, my mother was a gospel singer, so there was also a lot of spiritual music in my household. This made for a very diverse` musical development. After high school, I attended the University of MD at College Park. While studying psychology during the day, I was introduced to the Washington, D.C. music scene at night.
Eventually I was spending more time playing than studying, and left school to pursue music. I played,(and still often do) with a wide variety of musicians and bands in the area. This exposure led to gigs with regional and national acts both locally and on the road. (see partial performance list.) Through word of mouth, I was recommended for the bass job with Spyro Gyra. After auditioning, I got the gig (obviously). The past twenty-five years touring with the band have been a great experience. We get to see the world, meet new people, and have our music appreciated by thousands of fans. What more could a middle child ask for?
My stage setup is pretty straight forward. It starts with an Ambush Custom five-string bass. The signal goes into a Whirlwind Selector A/B box, where it is split. One side of the box feeds a Korg tuner, while the other feeds a Countryman direct box. This allows me to tune silently while on stage. The signal is split again at the direct box. One side feeding the house and monitor consoles the other side is fed into my stage rig. On stage I use an Eden Navigator preamp, fed into a QSC 3500 power amp, driving an Eden 4×10 cabinet. The cabinet is miked and fed to the house and monitor desks as well. As for effects, I sometimes use a TC Electronics chorus pedal and an EBS Octave peda
In addition to the Ambush basses, I sometimes use an Athlete acoustic bass guitar or a custom Jazz Bass with a Moses composite neck. In the studio, the bass goes direct to the console, and is combined with signal from either a miked Eden cabinet or the Navigator preamp.
My home home studio is a basic writer/project affair with Alesis ADAT, Mackie Board, Yamaha NS10 and KRK KROC monitors, various keyboards, Alesis DM5 drum module, Hart Dynamics Miltipad and kick drum triggers, a Power Computing CPU, MOTU Digital Preformer sequencing softwareand Pro Tools.
I was born in Havana, Cuba and grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey. I started playing guitar at the age of nine, my father being my first and most influential teacher. Although his roots were in traditional Cuban music he had a great jazz sensibility. I was always fascinated by his ability to take a simple tune, and turn it into something more harmonically & rhythmically complex. These were very valuable lessons.
Then came The Beatles. I think that when I saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show, I knew I was going to be a musician. I would practice for hours every day and by the time I was in high school, I was playing with different local bands. I also got very involved with the school music program. Unfortunately, guitar was not offered in the program, so I started playing the tuba. I think it weighed more than I did at the time. I graduated in 1972 and went to Montclair State University, majoring in music. I continued playing the tuba in college but by the time I was in my second year I decided it was time to take a leave of absence and started making a living playing the guitar, working in bars all over the Tri-state area.
In the mid 70’s I took jazz workshops at “The Sound of Joy” music school in Manhattan and started honing in on jazz theory and improvisation. I also took a songwriting class at the School of Visual Arts with songwriter Lou Stallman and later became a staff writer for his company. Through my association with Lou I met a lot of people in the business, including Gerardo Velez, the percussionist for Spyro Gyra at the time. Gerardo and I hit it off and we started collaborating on various projects. In 1984, when Spyro Gyra was looking for a new guitarist, he got me an audition with the band. I remember being nervous, but I gave it all I had. The next day I received a call from the band’s manager Phil Brennan, and he told me the gig was mine. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
I’ve been working with Spyro Gyra for over 30 years and it’s been a rewarding experience. In addition to Spyro Gyra, I’ve played with other artists including Bernie Williams, Chuck Loeb, Dave Samuels, Phoebe Snow, Richie Cannata, David Broza, Eric Marienthal, BB King, Emanuel, Marion Meadows and many others. I’ve been part of the NYC area music scene for four decades and I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to do what I love most. As for the future, I hope I can continue living the dream.
I use Ronaldo Custom Guitars, Dean Marley Strings, Full Contact Hardware and Fender amplification. My effects consist of Line6 M9, Tech 21 Fly Rig, Boss Blues Driver (modded by Keeley) and various Fulltone pedals. For recording I also use a Gibson Les Paul, D’Aquisto New Yorker and Taylor and Seagull acoustics.
Lionel Cordew, a righty who plays drums left-handed, has been playing since the age of five, professionally for the past eighteen years. The youngest of five boys, he first became interested in performing at the age of three by watching his older brothers’ band rehearsals from atop the basement stairway. It inspired him to raid his mother’s kitchen cabinets for pots and pans, arrange them by size and sound, and play them with a pair of butter knives.
The area of Queens where Cordew was raised, was home to an uncanny number of musicians, including James Brown, Illinois Jacquet, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgearld, Lenny White, Marcus Miller, Omar Hakim, Najee, and many others. Lionel was fortunate enough to see many of them perform in his own backyard at block parties, neighbors homes and at local clubs. He performed with Special EFX for more than four years while juggling touring, recording, drum clinics, and television spots with other artists. Lionel has since played with numerous jazz royalty including Lonnie Plaxico, Mike Stern, Leni Stern, and Bill Evans.
As a young adolescent, Lionel and his brothers performed every Sunday at the church where his father was the minister and his mother a singer in the gospel choir. The Cordew brothers gained a reputation which brought standing room only parishioners to the church. The area in Queens, NY where Cordew was raised, was home to an uncanny number of musicians, including James Brown, Illinois Jacquet, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lenny White, Marcus Miller, Omar Hakim, Najee, and others. Cordew was fortunate enough to see many of them perform in his own backyard at block parties, neighbors’ homes, and local clubs.
Staying local due to family obligations, Lionel received his formal musical education through a training program sponsored by the Local 802 Musicians Union that involved teachers from The Manhattan School of Music and The Julliard School of Music. With pianist/composer Stanley Cowell, he played a wide range of musical types – from traditional jazz to Cowell’s modern jazz string quartets – highlighted by a performance at Carnegie Hall. While in school, Cordew could be heard playing at one club or another every night of the week. His “break” came when he was heard at a small Long Island club by Dean Brown (Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller) and Schuyler Deale (Billy Joel, Michael Bolton) who asked him to play in their band, PRIMO. From there, Lionel played with Kirk Whalum, highlighted by a performance on the soundtrack for The Prince of Tides. Recorded on location, Cordew’s kit can actually be seen in the film. After Whalum, Cordew played with Special EFX for more than four years. Heavy touring, recording, and radio and television spots gave him exposure to many other artists on the jazz scene who he toured with and continues to play with today.
Cordew is a versatile, high energy drummer with an instinct for rhythms, perhaps stemming from his Caribbean heritage. He has broad musical interests and a particular zeal for contemporary jazz, fusion, r&b, blues, rock, pop, classical, and modern percussion. He has also toured, performed and/or recorded with Mike Stern, Klye Eastwood Gino Vanelli,Angelique Kidjo,Lonnie Plaxico,Cassandra Wilson,Roberta Flack, Bill Evans, Gato Barbieri,Chico DeBarge,Kelly Price,Warren Hill, Jon Lucien, Nelson Rangell, Special EFX, The Fantasy Band, Leni Stern, Kirk Whalum, Mark Johnson, New York Voices, George Jinda, Chuck Loeb, Marion Meadows, Christoph Spendel, Chieli Minucci, Mike Stern Band, Wayne Krantz, Regina Carter,Spyro Gyra and others. His tours have taken him from throughout the United States, to Southeast Asia, Europe, Japan and South America.