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Gregory Tardy has performed on every continent except Australia and worked with artists who have a variety of musical styles, ranging from traditional to avant-garde.
In every instance, Tardy, a jazz saxophone assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, strives to accommodate each musician's flair while maintaining his own voice and making the experience as enjoyable as possible for the player and the listener.
It's a lesson he continually emphasizes to his students.
"I've known musicians that have been world-class musicians but people didn't want to work with them because they were so hard to deal with as people," he said. "I try to teach my students to be flexible and to be able to adapt to different musicians. It helps them, work-wise. It's respecting other musicians."
Tardy, 45, who is in his second year at the UT School of Music, teaches undergraduate and graduate saxophone students and two ensembles.
He's played with renowned artists such as Wynton Marsalis, the Neville Brothers, and Elvin Jones. The list includes Bill Frisell, Andrew Hill, Tom Harrell, Dave Douglas, and Nicholas Payton.
He's also recorded nine CDs, including one for the storied Impulse Records. He recently released a CD entitled Monuments.
The married father of two came to the university after an invitation from Mark Boling, UT associate professor of music and coordinator of the jazz program.
The men first met in 2004 when Tardy was in town to perform and record with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra. Vance Thompson, the orchestra's founding director and a UT jazz lecturer, introduced them.
Tardy has performed at large and small sites, from New York City's Carnegie Hall to Knoxville's Square Room. He's played from Los Angeles to Boston, Chicago to Philadelphia, and just about everywhere in between.
He's also played all the major historic jazz scenes in New York City, including the Village Vanguard, the Blue Note, Birdland, Sweet Basil, Bradley's and the Iridium.
He's toured in Angola, Israel, Japan, and Russia. He's played in the Jazz Festival in Winnipeg, Canada.
Tardy has encountered interesting venues along the way.
He was at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Orvietto, Italy, a gorgeous village on top of a plateau in the mountain region, when the millennium switched from 1999 to 2000.
"It was pretty amazing: great music, great food!" he said.
At the Jerusalem Theatre, he performed Moroccan Jewish music with Rabbi Haim Louk and bassist Omer Avital.
"I also played at a kibbutz in Israel where we had to hike into this wooded area and then when you came through the trees, there was a small clearing to play in," he said. "That was pretty cool.
"One time I played a gig with Elvin Jones in the Sequoia National Park-that was amazing with all these huge trees around you, filling the air with music."
Tardy enjoys the "aha" moments with his students when he sees them grasp a new concept. Another highlight of his UT career was playing a gig at the Square Room with one of his ensembles where the band played some challenging music written by Wynton Marsalis.
He's also enjoyed playing faculty concerts and teaching at high school music clinics.
"Music played such an important role in my life when I was growing up, and I always love a chance to inspire others in their musical aspiration," he said.
When Tardy arrived in Knoxville, he was impressed with the level of depth of UT's music staff, he said.
"When thinking of jazz schools, people think New York, Chicago, or New Orleans," he said. "They don't often think of some of the small cities like Knoxville.
"The level of sophistication of the program here is on the same level. A person coming here is definitely going to get what they need."
For more about Gregory Tardy and his music, visit www.gregorytardy.com.