Musician, saxophonist, and composer Tom Gullion has built a reputation as an intuitive, emotional, and melodic player. During the past two decades, his varied career has included periods of intense performance and also of introspective creativity, and he has emerged as a major force in the contemporary jazz scene.
Gullion grew up in the Indianapolis area, and first studied with master teachers Larry Kirkman and Harry Miedema. He went on to study with David N. Baker at Indiana University, where he cemented his foundation in bebop and modern jazz traditions with fellow students Bob Hurst, Shawn Pelton, Chris Botti, Scott Wendholt, Jack Wilkins, Eric Alexander and others.
When jazz trombone legend J.J. Johnson put together a new quintet in 1988, Gullion, at 22, joined the group along with Cedar Walton, Rufus Reid and Victor Lewis. After several successful U.S. tours, Gullion delayed his professional career to finish his studies with Baker at Indiana.
After his matriculation, Gullion toured the world with various acts, playing first in New York, and then moving to Spain, which served as his base for European performances with the Spanish jazz group Clunia, with whom he recorded a successful CD, Carpe Diem. Apart from his busy schedule with Clunia, Gullion also performed for several broadcast concerts; worked and recorded with the Baldo Martinez Quartet, an avant garde ensemble with no piano; and launched the Tom Gullion Trio.
Gullion moved to Chicago in 1995, and quickly established himself in the jazz scene there. He recorded two CDs, Cat's Cradle and Greens and Blues, for Naim Audio (London), which included some of the best players in the Chicago scene: John Moulder (guitar), Rob Amster (bass), Steve Gillis (drums), and Paul Wertico (drums).
Gullion also immersed himself into the creative music scene on several other fronts. He performed and recorded with singer/songwriter Nicholas Barron, keyboardist Eric Levy (now touring with Garaj Mahal) as well as many players in the avant garde tradition (such as Harrison Bankhead, Hamid Drake, and Kahil El Zabar).
In 2002, Gullion moved with his family to a farm in rural Wisconsin, where he entered a period of relative seclusion after the frenetic energy of touring and recording. During this period, he honed his skills as a composer, released a solo album of original compositions entitled Catharsis where he performed all the instruments, began performing on 1920s vintage Conn saxophones, and launched Project Fourth Stream, an experimental-music duo with pianist/composer William Neil, with whom he has expanded into new avenues of focused collaboration, improvisation, and theoretical experimentation. The project has performed a steady stream of concerts, including several music festivals, university workshops and collaborations with flautist Hanah Jon Taylor, percussionists Davu Seru and Rich MacDonald.
Gullion has emerged from this period of introspection with a deep, soulful performance style, a sophisticated avant-garde sensibility, and a quicksilver technique. Now, at the peak of his musical maturity, he is launching a new album entitled Carswell, which includes original compositions featuring like-minded musicians such as trumpeter David Cooper, pianists Tim Whalen and Vijay Tellis-Nayak, bassists Mark Urness and Shawn Sommer and drummers Dane Richeson and Ernie Adams. "The whole project," Gullion explains, "is about me trying to reach deep and find something that's uniquely mine." For this project, the compositions and the spirit of the band are front and center.
Gullion has even found time to organize the Driftless Jazz Festival in Southwestern Wisconsin. As Gullion puts it, "Humbly walking in the footsteps of Sonny Rollins and others who have taken time for reflection in their careers, I've found my path is to bring music to the people. And that's exactly what these new projects are about."