Tim Sparks has been redefining the acoustic guitar repertoire since he won the National Fingerpicking Championship in 1993 with a ground breaking arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Sparks continues to surprise, challenge, and thrill audiences with his diverse repertoire and stunning technique. Equally at home with Country Blues, Jazz or World Music, Sparks’ extraordinary ability has earned him an international reputation as one of the most innovative guitarists working today.
Trained by Segovia protege Jesus Silva, at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Sparks has continued to study classical music throughout his career. His adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite has been cited as a significant contribution to solo guitar literature. For Sparks, it was a labor of love that earned him the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship in Winfield, Kansas in 1993.
His wide travels inspired his interest in European and Mediterranean styles, particularly the music of the Balkans. Upon his return to Minnesota, Sparks immersed himself in the ethnic music scene, performing on Oud and Saz in Middle Eastern ensembles and playing guitar in Greek, Klezmer, and Sephardic groups. This work culminated in the recording of Sparks’ Balkan Dreams Suite, a remarkable collection of odd-meter guitar arrangements.
Sparks’ work came to the attention of John Zorn, the saxophonist, composer, and curator of Tzadik Records in New York, and thereby led to a new cycle of compositions inspired by traditional Jewish melodies. Neshamah (1999) is a solo effort; Tanz, (2000) which garnered Downbeat Magazine’s highest praise, five stars; and At the Rebbe’s Table (2002). In 2003, Tzadik released Masada Guitars, fea- turing interpretations of John Zorn’s music by Tim, Bill Frisell, and Marc Ribot.
In recent years, Sparks’ musical focus has come full circle, returning to the country blues and classic jazz that served as a springboard for his worldwide guitar explorations. He toured with Dolly Parton in 2005 and recorded Roots, Rags and Blues for Truefire Acoustic Guitar Workshop.
Sparks released Sidewalk Blues on the ToneWood label in February 2009 and recorded Little Princess, his fifth CD for Tzadik, in New York in 2009. Post-Modern Fingerstyle Guitar was released on Truefire in 2011. Sparks released Chasin’ the Boogie, his 10th acoustic guitar recording on May 30, 2014 followed by Jukebox Dreamin’ in December 2018.
Seth Rogovy, Berkshire Jewish Voice
“I mean it as the greatest of praise when I say that it doesn’t even sound like guitar playing- Sparks is one of those rare players, like Bill Frisell, who transcends the inherited vocabulary of the instrument to create something other than guitar music with it – something both simpler and more complex. In a word, music, and not just any music, but music of multi-dimensionality, music that shimmers and sustains and speaks directly to the soul of a listener.”
“Every musician on the planet should hear this.” on Jukebox Dreamin’.
“You can hear Tim Sparks think. He plays by choice not habit: ideas not licks. I’ve heard him do this on guitars so badly intonated, they wouldn’t make a good ashtray; the same guitars – I remember a piece called Blues on Bartok Street – are guitars in Tim’s hands. Beautiful. I’m Tim Sparks’ biggest fan. His stuff is very difficult to play but it doesn’t sound difficult. I think that’s real musicianship. He’s really one of the best musicians I know.”
All About Jazz New York “An amazing technician with elements of guitarists Leo Kottke, John Fahey, Lenny Breau, Andres Segovia and Doc Watson, Sparks stands alone in his ability to arrange and abstract worldly elements into a cohesive guitar-based approach.”
Berlin Morning Post – “Sparks shows his tremendous versatility moving between jazz and the classics.”
Guitar Player Magazine – “Fresh, exotic, and totally cool.”
Acoustic Guitar Magazine – “Sparks’ musical goulash is spiced with Celtic, blues, and jazz flavors for a truly unique work. The effect is exotic, rich, and sensuous.”
Tim Sparks is a contemporary musical phenomenon. An award winning guitarist, originally from North Carolina who, in addition to classical music, has extensive knowledge and mastery of four different styles of music that reflect his personali- ty and heritage: Classical, Jazz, Deep South Blues and Jewish Music.
Sparks is equally comfortable playing in each of these four musical worlds, and can be regarded a master of every single one. But what makes Sparks so unique is that he brings all of them together seamlessly. Listening to his works, each has a defined stylistic framework, yet he allows different nuances from the other three worlds to “creep in” all with delightful taste and musicianship.
For example, his album “At The Rebbe’s Table,” one of his Jewish works, has sparkles of Mississippi blues guitar. His original guitar adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, which is considered an important new work in today’s classical music circles, has an underlying groove and rhythm that can only be expressed by a musician with Jazz and Blues sensibilities. Sparks con- ducts and directs this delicate interaction among genres in a fresh and exciting way.
His flawless finger-style technique is rare to find, as he plays melodies (and improvises) while accompanying himself with bass lines and chords. For guitarists, this is jaw-dropping. For the rest of us, this is beautiful music by one of the most virtuosic, sensitive and tasteful musicians around.