Full Biography (click here for press bio)
Bassist, composer, and educator, Tom Knific, has made a life from his diverse musical passions. Classically trained on two continents, and having been drawn to jazz since childhood, he has navigated and flourished in these worlds, leaving a trail of critically acclaimed concerts and recordings, inspired compositions, and a growing roster of students making their own mark on the music scene.
Tom’s recent projects include several new CD’s. The Muse features Fred Hersch, John Knific, Jamey Haddad, and wonderful alumni from the Jazz Studies program at WMU – Chris Beckstrom, Ryan Andrews, singers Taylor O’Donnell, and Mark Jackson, and Keith Hall. Lines of Influence, is the debut project of the Tom Knific Quartet. The title track is the first work Tom and his son John composed together. It is heart melting! It also features Beckstrom, Andrews and Hall.
Tom had several new pieces debut. Hearing the call to prayer from this ancient and mystical city in Turkey, he was inspired to create The Muezzin of Göreme. Recorded with life long friend percussionist Jamey Haddad, the work is published by ISB Editions, and has been performed worldwide. It is the “spiritual“ center of The Muse CD. The International Society of Bassists commissioned Tom to compose the required work for the 2009 solo competition for the ISB Convention at Penn State University. The Muse and The Master for solo bass was the result. It was thrilling and humbling to hear some of the greatest young bass talent on earth perform the work. Zhang Song, the Second Duo for Double Bass and Violin, had its second performance, at The China Conservatory, May, 2011, during a week long residency by Tom and Renata. Still in manuscript, it was premiered in Beijing by them days after its completion in 2008. It is written in dedication to the wonderful Chinese family that has given us all so much – who Tom came to know first through brilliant soloist DaXun Zhang and then through DaXun’s cousin, and Tom’s student, Shijiao Zhang, who now performs in the symphony at the National Center for The performing Arts in Beijing.
All the above works were performed at the 2011 ISB Convention in San Francisco. Esra Atalay, President of the Turkish Bass Society played the daylights out of The Muse and The Master, which she also performed around the worldthat year. Tom performed at the convention with pianist son Gene Knific and Renata Artman Knific – truly a family affair.
The Western Jazz Quartet added a fifth continent to their touring credits with a residency at the 7th International Music Festival in Mozambique. It was a memorable and moving experience. The group has been invited back for 2012.
In 2011, Encore magazine published a feature on Tom and Renata that really captures the spirit of both artists and family. (Click here to read)
Tom performed recitals and gave classes at the two European bass gatherings, Paris 2008, at The Paris Conservatory, and Berlin 2010, at The University of the Arts, where he teamed up in duo with Rufus Reid, along with duos and trios with Danish bassist Jimmi Roger Pedersen and Paul Erhard. Stateside, in 2009, Tom and Jiggs Whigham brought a vision to reality with the inaugural performance of Cleveland, an ensemble of artists originally from that city which also includes Ken Peplowski, Shelly Berg and Jamey Haddad. A remarkable adventure! The Western Jazz Quartet also enjoyed two memorable tours to Chile and Italy in 2008, for the US Department of State.
Other projects include the premiere recording of Frank Proto's Quartet for Piano and Strings with the Merling Trio, which was composed for them. Tom also witnessed the premiere recording of his Duo for Violin and Double Bass by French virtuoso Daniel Marillier at the Paris Opera House. The piece had been commissioned and debuted by Thomas Martin, the great bassist of the United Kingdom, and is the first chamber work published by ISB Editions.
Tom produced and hosted the 2005 International Society of Bassists convention at Western Michigan University. The project, "a labor of love," took more than two years from start to finish. This resulted in a convention that broke all previous records in attendance, events, and quantity and quality of featured artists.
Tom has released two other CDs as a leader, Home Bass (Jazzheads), and Siena (Sea Breeze). For both projects, Tom called upon many of the artists he has been inspired by and enjoys long associations with including Billy Hart, Gene Bertoncini, Sir Roland Hanna, Fred Hersch, Jamey Haddad, Tim Froncek, Billy Drewes, Andy LaVerne, Trent Kynaston, Sunny Wilkinson, and others. This "collage" approach has allowed him to express some of the diversity of his musical tastes.
For the past twenty years, the Western Jazz Quartet has been central to Tom's creative life. The group has toured on five continents. The Western Jazz Quartet has released five CDs in the United States: Mayan Myths (2006), Premiere (2005), with trumpeter Scott Cowan; and Sabine's Dance (2000), Blue Harts (1995) and Firebird (1992) with Billy Hart. Both Firebird and Blue Harts received top reviews in Down Beat magazine, with Firebird being named one of the best CDs of the 1990s. In varying configurations, the group has released several CDs in Europe with pianist Wlodek Pawlik: Waning Moon (2000) on Universal Mercury Records; Turtles (1996), with Randy Brecker, on Polonia Records; and Live at the Jazz Club Akwarium (1995) with Billy Hart on the Koch International label.
Tom has also performed with many other great artists of our time on tour and on record including Dave Brubeck, John Abercrombie, Art Farmer, and others. He and Eric Marienthal co-led the "Dream Band" with Toots Thielemans, Kenny Werner and Harvey Mason in the first live interactive jazz concert multi-cast over the Internet. As a classical artist, he has recorded with Pepe Romero, Andre Watts, Philippe Entremont, and the Merling Trio, and has been principal bassist with orchestras and chamber orchestras in the U.S. and Europe. He has appeared at chamber music festivals throughout North America and Europe.
As bassist, composer, and founding member of OPUS 21, Tom was able to bring many of his interests together. This ensemble commissioned a half dozen works every year for its series, with music ranging from jazz, pop, and world influences to contemporary classical. Annual NYC premieres, recording projects, and concerts at the Library of Congress and Carnegie Hall are part of the group's schedule.
As a composer, Tom has written over two dozen works in a variety of idioms. He has been commissioned by OPUS 21, the ISB, and leading instrumentalists. He has received numerous grants and awards for his writing including the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, and several from Western Michigan University. His writing may be heard on eight CDs. In the contemporary music scene, Tom has worked with John Cage, Donald Erb, Mario Davidovsky, Eve Beglarian, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Curtis Curtis-Smith, Chen Yi, Tania Leon, Michael Daugherty, and others.
Tom's dedication to education is life long. He has been professor of double bass and jazz guitar at Western Michigan University since 1987. He was appointed Director of Jazz Studies in 2000. His formal teaching career began at the Interlochen Arts Academy in 1983, when he was appointed instructor of bass, jazz guitar, and subsequently, Director of Jazz Studies. He has also taught at Michigan State University, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and has presented over a hundred master classes worldwide. Tom's students have toured and recorded with Betty Carter, Vincent Herring, Cedar Walton, John Scofield, and perform in orchestras on three continents. In addition, he received the Down Beat magazine Achievement in Jazz Education award in 2004. The Jazz Studies program at Western Michigan University has produced over 125 Down Beat magazine Student Music Award winners – one of the greatest collection of winners in the history of the award.
Tom was born in the East Cleveland suburb of Euclid, Ohio, in 1959. His father, Rudy, a bassist, and older brother, Randy, a drummer, were his earliest musical influences. Although rarely continuing to perform professionally, his father maintained many of his musician friends who were considered extended family, including Henry Geer, a kind of Godfather of the Cleveland jazz scene, and the Jimmy Aprile family, all talented and soulful musicians. His brother Randy amassed a record collection of mythical proportion, and performed professionally while in middle school. Like so many kids of the Beatles generation, Tom aspired to the guitar and convinced his parents he was ready for lessons at age 8. With every other boy his age looking for guitar teachers in those days, he still counts his blessings that he had the fortune to be placed with Jim Leihenseder at a Sodja's music store. Tom recalls, "A few short years later, and Jimmy was showing me voicings, helping me with harmony and sharing his passion for Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Jimmy Smith. And I had barely started middle school. He took me to see Benson at the Smiling Dog Saloon, which meant I needed to come up with a fake ID."
Tom began electric bass at this time and double bass the following year. His first teacher was Jim Wuehrmann, a cellist, who, after less than a year, encouraged him to contact one of the fine bassists of the Cleveland Orchestra. During his sophomore year of high school, Tom began his seven years of study with Lawrence Angell, who subsequently became principal of the Cleveland Orchestra. "Angell was all about the passion and commitment to music making," Tom states. "He came from the Oscar Zimmerman tradition, who also became a friend and mentor. It was great having the legacy of this world class orchestra at my fingertips. I studied with several members of the section, attended concerts, rehearsals. It was a thrill to be able to root for this winning team!" Simultaneously, he began studying guitar with Bill DeArango, an icon who had played with Charlie Parker, and composition with Ron Smith, a student of Gary Burton.
When time for college came, he had enough professional connections established in Cleveland, that studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music made the most sense. At this time, he began an association with percussionist Jamey Haddad who opened both doors and worlds to him, introducing him to Kenny Werner and Billy Drewes. He also experienced his first tour to Brazil with saxophonist Howie Smith. As a guitarist intrigued with the music of Brazil, this tour helped bring this tradition into clear focus, changing his perspective for good. Tom played with Joe Lovano, who had graduated from the same high school. He also played with trumpeter Kenny Davis, guitarist Bob Fraser and others, and took a semester off to tour with the Tommy Dorsey band. There was a steady stream of studio work in those days. The most remarkable were sessions produced by an ambitious teenager who was writing national jingles and hiring top players. His name was Jim Brickman, now famous for his romantic piano performances. During Tom’s senior year of college, he was appointed principal bassist of the Cleveland Chamber Symphony.
Studies at the Aspen summer program became pivotal, studying with both Stuart Sankey and Eugene Levinson. It was Levinson who advised Tom to seek Franco Petracchi, whom he considered the master of the French bow, or as Petracchi calls it, "The Italian bow!" "Petracchi gave me a sense of technical understanding, historical perspective, integrity and a sense of stage presence that I still call upon to this day. He performs, conducts, composes, arranges, and teaches at the highest level…what a great role model." Tom also did graduate studies with Frank Deliberto at the University of Akron and later had the opportunity to work with the legendary Dave Holland at the Banff Center in Canada.
Tom met Renata Artman, the Polish born violinist who had just left a thriving career in London to pursue studies with David Cerone, at the Cleveland Institute. In need of a violinist for the Bottesini Grand Duo, which he had studied with Petracchi, he was directed, by everyone, to Renata. "She was the beginning of my adult life, as a person and as an artist, in so many ways." The couple has enjoyed a twenty five year plus union which has included parallel and intertwined professional lives, countless scheduling nightmares, and two wonderful sons, John and Gene. Of all of their collaborations, he is most proud of Renata's crossover CD, "West of Everywhere," featuring one of Sir Roland Hanna's final recordings and music they both wrote for her.
"The constellation of people who have shaped my life, musically and personally, is so bright, that I just use their light to lead the way."