Tom Varner is known as one of the top living pioneers of jazz and improvisation on the horn, an inventive and passionate composer for his various ensembles, and an authority on jazz horn history and repertoire.
Tom was born in 1957 and grew up in New Jersey, and studied piano with Capitola Dickerson. He started playing horn in fourth grade, choosing it from a photo. He started taking private lessons during his freshman year of high school, concentrating on classical music. When he got interested in jazz, he thought he would have to listen to it but never be able to play it because of his instrument until a friend introduced him to a Thelonius Monk record with a horn solo (by Julius Watkins). Tom played in school and community orchestras, but also the school jazz big band. He studied briefly in 1976 with jazz horn pioneer Julius Watkins, gaining confidence that playing jazz on the horn was possible.
Tom studied for two years at Oberlin College, then transferred to the New England Conservatory of Music (Boston), where he studied horn with Thomas Newell and jazz improvisation and composition with Ran Blake, George Russell, and Jaki Byard and earned a BM in 1979. He holds an MA (2005) from the City College of New York, where he studied with Jim McNeely, Scott Reeves, and John Patitucci. Tom lived in New York City for 26 years, moving to Seattle in 2005.
Tom appears on more than 70 albums and has recorded 14 albums as a composer/leader. He has been in the Down Beat Critics Poll Top Ten annually since the mid-1990s and has been awarded grants from the Jack Straw Foundation, Seattle’s 4Culture, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Foundation, and has been a resident at the MacDowell, Blue Mountain, and Centrum arts colonies.
Sidemen on his albums as leader have included Steve Wilson, Tony Malaby, Ed Jackson, Ellery Eskelin, Tom Rainey, Cameron Brown, Drew Gress, Matt Wilson, Kenny Barron, Victor Lewis, Fred Hopkins, and Billy Hart. He has performed and recorded with Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, McCoy Tyner, the Mingus Orchestra, and many others. His influences include Ornette Coleman, Steve Lacy, Charles Mingus, Anthony Braxton, Sonny Rollins, and minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass. His first album featured horn, alto sax, bass, and drums. Later albums were for a quintet of horn, two saxes, bass, and drums, with frequent guest artists. Nine Surprises is for a nonet of three brass, four reeds, and bass and drums.
Many of Tom’s albums reflect both serious and humorous interest in religion, in particular the first century, the upheaval of the Roman Empire, the first 200 years of Christianity, and also Hollywood Bible movies. Although he grew up in New Jersey, his parents were both from a small town in Missouri, and Tom went to church every week growing up. Other influences are science and sci-fi, mythology and folklore, Americana and urban kitsch, James Brown and 20th-century music.
Tom is now Associate Professor of Music at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. He has written articles on Julius Watkins and afterwards for The Horn Call (1988, 1989). While living in New York City, he organized the first Julius Watkins Jazz French Horn Festival, featuring himself, Mark Taylor, John Clark, and Vincent Chancey. He plays a Paxman 20M full double horn.
Tom was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 2020.
Vicente Zarzo (1938-2021)
Vincente Zarzo Pitarch was a Spanish horn player who performed and taught in many parts of the world, but especially in Spain, Mexico, and the Netherlands, and wrote horn etudes and books on the history of the horn.
Zarzo was born in 1938 in Benaguacil, Valencia and studied at the Conservatorio Superior de Música Joaquin Rodrigo in Valencia and later with Hans Noeth in Munich, Germany.
Zarzo had positions as solo horn with the Valencia Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra Sinfonica del Gran Teatro del Liceo de Barcelona, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the American Wind Symphony of Pittsburg, the National Orchestra of Mexico, and for 25 years with the Residentie Orkest of The Hague, Netherlands. As a soloist, he performed with the Orquesta Municipal de Valencia, Orquesta de Valladolid, Orquesta de Oviedo, Orquesta de Tenerife, Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfónica de Port (Portugal), Philharmonic Orchestra of Groningen (Netherlands), Orquesta Nacional de México, National Orchstra of Reykjavik (Iceland), and others.
Zarzo was professor of horn and natural horn at the University of Mexico, the Conservatory of Amsterdam, the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, and at the Conservatoire de Musique in Montreux, Switzerland. He was a guest professor at Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Carlos de Valencia, Conservatorio Superior del Liceo in Barcelona, and the Conservatory of Music and Dance of the Balearic Islands (Palma, Mallorca). He recorded the Brahms Horn Trio, the Hindemith concertos, works of Amando Blanquer, and the Mozart Quintet K452 with Radu Lupu (nominated for the Grand Prix du Disc).
Composers who have written works especially for Zarzo include Wim Laman (Quaterni II), Jan Van Vlijmen (Confronti horn concerto), Hans Henkemans (Concert), Paul de Ro, Eduardo Mata (Sinfónica No. 3), and Amando Blanquer (Sonata and Concierto para 4 trompas y orquesta).
Zarzo was honored with the Punto award at the 2004 International Horn Symposium in Valencia, Spain. In the same year, the Valencia Academy of Music appointed him as “Insigne de la Musica of Valencia.” A street in central Granada, Andalusia, Spain is named for him: Calle Músico Vicente Zarzo. He wrote an article about his collection of horns for the February 1995 issue of The Horn Call. He was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 2020.
Arkady Shilkloper has electrified IHS symposiums with jazz and improvisation on horn, alphorn, and various other instruments since his first appearance at the 1992 symposium in Manchester, England. He had already impressed the jazz world at various venues, at the same time being a member of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to his contributions to numerous IHS symposiums, Arkady has served on the Advisory Council (2001-2003).
Arkady was born in Moscow in 1956 and now lives in Germany. He started on an alto horn at age six and switched to horn when entering the Moscow Military Music School at age 11. After two years of military service, he studied at the Moscow Gnessin Institute (1976-1981). He was a member of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra (1978-1985), formed a jazz duo with bassist Mikhail Karetnikow in 1984, and performed and toured with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra (1985-1989).
Arkady has collaborated with pianist Mikhail Alperin since 1986; the duo then formed the Moscow Art Trio in 1990 with clarinetist and researcher Sergey Starostin to perform Russian ethno jazz. In 1990 Arkady visited the US for the first time, performing at the University of Idaho Jazz Festival. Pago Libre was formed in 1995 with Austrian violinist Tcho Theissing, Swiss pianist John Wolf Brennan, and Austrian bassist Georg Breinschmid; bassist Tom Götze from Dresden joined in 2012. Later Arkady formed the Mauve Trio with Brazilian guitarist Alegre Correa and Austrian bassist Georg Breinschmid (their debut album was awarded the Hans Koller Prize as CD of the Year).
Arkady started playing alphorn in 1998, an unusual instrument for improvisational music. He performed the Concerto for Alphorn and Orchestra by Daniel Schnyder, commissioned by the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad, in 2004. He has recorded albums with alphorn as well on horn with various ensembles.
Arkady has changed the perception around the world of what is possible on the horn and on instruments related to the horn, especially in the realm of jazz.
Kazimierz (Kaz) W. Machala, a native of Poland, is a performer, teacher, and composer. He is a truly international musician, having played and taught in Europe, Australia, and the US, and back to Poland as Visiting Professor of Horn at the Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, retiring in 2019. His compositions and arrangements have become staples of the horn literature.
Kaz grew up on a farm in central Poland, riding his bicycle through snow and mud with his accordion strapped to his back to get to music lessons. He also played drum, mandolin, two-string bass, and accordion in the village band. When he was in high school, an ethnomusicology professor heard him play accordion at a folklore competition and described the horn to him as the most noble instrument in the entire orchestra. Kaz took the advice seriously, but also played piano, guitar, and banjo to support himself while studying horn. He played banjo and piano in a Dixieland band – daring during the cold war – where he made his first attempts at composing. Acquaintance with Kirk Douglas at a film school in Lodz motivated Kaz to learn English.
Kaz studied at the Janáček Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Brno, Czech Republic (1968-1973), attracted by its long tradition of fine horn playing and unique warm horn sound. After graduation, he played in the Cracow Radio Symphony for one year, but he wanted to learn more about orchestral playing and in 1974 was accepted at Juilliard, where he was the first horn player in the school’s history to receive a DMA degree. He won Third Prize at the 1974 International Music Competition for Woodwinds and Brass in Prague.
Kaz was principal horn in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (1979-1986) and played in several chamber ensembles. He returned to the US to be closer to family and taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1989-2009), now Professor Emeritus. Kaz has performed as a soloist, in various wind and brass ensembles, and with major orchestras. and has taught and performed at festivals in New Zealand, Europe, Canada, and the US. In teaching, he stresses good habits, a well-balanced playing efficiency.
Writing started with transcribing and arranging for chamber ensembles at his first teaching job. He first transcribed music of composers who didn’t write solo works for horn. He wrote for the Dixieland band, songs for a rock band, a film score for a student project in Sydney, and exercises for his students. He wrote a horn quartet for his students, which the American Horn Quartet included in their concert repertoire. His arrangement of the American Folk Suite for wind quintet has been performed and recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet. Transcribing and arranging has led to Kaz writing original compositions. He premiered his own Concerto for Horn, Winds, and Percussion with the Wind Symphony at the University of Illinois; it has received numerous performances on five continents. He received the Excellence in Composition Award at the International Brass Chamber Music Festival in Louisville, Kentucky for his Brass Quintet No. 1.
Since his retirement, Kaz has been composing and giving masterclasses. He was elected an IHS Honorary Member in 2020.
The Dutch hornist Ab Koster was professor of horn at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg for 39 years, retiring in 2019; 94% of his former students hold positions as professional performers. Ab is also known as an outstanding orchestral player and as soloist on both natural and modern horn. He has been active in the IHS as a featured artist at IHS symposiums and serving on the Advisory Council for two terms (1998-2001 and 2014-2016).
Ab was born in The Hague, Holland, the son of a Dutch hornist. He completed his studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music in his hometown with a Prix d’Exellence, then continued at the Folkwang University in Essen, Germany with Hermann Baumann, who called him one of the “leading hornist of his generation.”
Ab held the position of principal horn in the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg, Germany from 1977 until 1990, when he left in order to accept many invitations as soloist and chamber musician. He has collaborated with Jean-Pierre Rampal, Gustav Leonhardt, and Frans Brüggen (Orchestra of the 18th Century) and earned an international reputation with solo performances, records, radio, and television recordings in various countries. Concert tours have led him to almost all countries in Europe as well as in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, China, and Taiwan.
For years, Ab has belonged to the small circle of soloists who are sought after world-wide, on the natural horn as well as on the valve horn. His interpretation of the concertos by Mozart and Strauss are particularly celebrated all over the world.