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TIM SPARKS

Tim Sparks

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Acoustic Guitar Magazine: Blues in Dropped D Lesson

Few musicians have as diverse a musical background as fingerstyle guitarist Tim Sparks. From his early studies with guitarist Duck Baker when Sparks was a teen to leading the Latin jazz group Rio Nido in the ’70s to his immersion in Balkan music in the early ’90s, Sparks has a broad foundation for his original style of composing and arranging. Sparks has won the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship (1993), recorded several albums for Acoustic Music and Tzadik Records, arranged Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, toured in support of Dolly Parton, and collaborated with guitar icons Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell. While he continues to walk the line between odd-metered Eastern European folk tunes and the downtown jazz world, Sparks has also found his way back to country blues, as his 2009 release Sidewalk Blues demonstrates. We talked with Sparks following a workshop at the String Letter Music School in San Anselmo, California, about his blues roots.

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Guitar Player Magazine interview

Tim Sparks’ career nearly ended before it began when he broke his left wrist as a child. “When my arm came out of the cast, it was frozen in a palms-down position,” he explains. “So I had to work for a few months to get my wrist to rotate. My doctor said if it wasn’t for wanting to play guitar I might not ever have regained the use of my hand.” Fortunately, Sparks’ wrist rotated well enough for him to go on to become one of the most accomplished and eclectic fingerstyle guitarists of his generation, delving deeply into the blues and other roots music that surrounded him as a child, and eventually moving on to classical (his first album featured an arrangement of The Nutcracker Suite), bebop and Brazilian jazz, and ethnic Greek, Portuguese, Russian, and Jewish Klezmer styles (recording three albums of avant-garde Klezmer for John Zorn’s Tzadik label, including 2009’s Little Princess).

On Sidewalk Blues [ToneWood], Sparks returns to his early blues roots to play swinging fingerstyle arrangements of blues tunes originally penned by artists such as Jelly Roll Morton, Willie Brown, Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, Scott Joplin, and Louis Armstrong on a 1917 Gibson L-3 and Collings, Hoffman, and Lakewood instruments. “I began the project more than ten years ago when I was playing the Collings,” says Sparks. “But when I returned to it I was playing a Hoffman, which has a shorter scale. There are two versions of ‘Mississippi Blues’ on the record: the earlier fast and punchy version played on the Collings, and the slow version on the Hoffman. In each case the unique qualities of the guitar called forth a particular version of the song.”

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Jazz Police - Late Night at The Dakota
April 2010

The folk traditions of Easter Europe and the Middle East permeate the recent music of Twin Cities Guitarist Tim Sparks. Sparks and his trio will mesmerize the Late at the Dakota audience on Saturday, April 3rd (11:30 pm). With Jay Epstein on drums and Chris Bates on bass, the trio will perform music from Spark’s Tzadik recordings, including his latest, Little Princess.

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Little Princess

Allmusic Review of Little Princess


Acoustic fingerstyle guitarist Tim Sparks has always set himself apart from the pack of his peers. Rather than rely strictly on playing blues or age-old folk and bluegrass tunes, or even following in the well-worn paths of John Fahey, Peter Lang, and Robbie Basho, Sparks has followed his muse down into the corridors of musical and cultural history. While no one can dent the influence of great jazzmen on his playing, one can hear the sounds of saxophonists, pianists, and of course the sounds of Yiddish folk and popular music, klezmer among them. In 2000, Sparks recorded Tanz, his third album for John Zorn's Tzadik imprint. It was a departure from his previous two in that it wasn't a solo but a trio record. His partners on that musical journey were veteran bassist Greg Cohen and master percussionist Cyro Baptista. The set was brilliant and innovative, creating an entirely new perspective on Jewish music from the beginning of the 20th century to the commencement of the 21st. It contained a slew of traditional songs and also featured four tunes by the original klezmer legend, clarinetist and composer Naftule Brandwein. The same trio reconvened in 2002 for At the Rebbe's Table, for a similar program that also contained tunes by Brandwein. Seven long years later, this trio once more reunites to perform an entire program of his work, and the results are quite astonishing.

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Little Princess

Jazzitis - Little Princess


El sitio para hablar de jazz y de lo que plazca

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Little Princess

Multikulti Project
July 2009


Another fabulous CD of traditional Jewish music arranged for fingerstyle guitar and performed by the wonderful trio of Tim Sparks, Greg Cohen and Cyro Baptista, whose CD Tanz was released in 2000 to great acclaim. Focusing this time on the traditional repertoire of the great Klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein, the arrangements are delightful, highlighting Tim's elegant guitar style and fine ear for detail and harmonic sophistication. Naftule features colorful and lyrical music that takes the Jewish tradition into the 21st century with style, originality and a charming sense of wit.

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Little Princess

Berkshire Jewish Voice
May 2010
Seth Rogovoy


Tim Sparks, a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was raised on traditional country blues and the gospel his grandmother played on piano in a small church in the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts, he studied classical guitar with Andrés Segovia protégée Jesus Silva. While recording three albums with the seminal vocal jazz ensemble Rio Nido, Sparks also became proficient in jazz styles from Brazilian to bebop. In 1993, he won the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, for playing his bluegrass adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

Not exactly the obvious ingredients for the making of one of the world’s greatest interpreters of Jewish music on guitar, but that’s exactly what Sparks has become over the last decade, as he has applied his talents and omnivorous musical appetite to Jewish folk, jazz, and klezmer, along the way establishing a niche for himself as one of Jewish music’s most highly respected guitarists, along with Marc Ribot and Gary Lucas, who have perhaps dubious or superfluous benefit of Jewish backgrounds.

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Sidewalk Blues

Pinkusion - Sidewalk Blues
October 2009


De la même génération que Scott Witte, Tim Sparks (né en 1954) bénéficie d’une exposition et d’une reconnaissance sans comparaison possible — quoique par chez nous étrangement limitée au microcosme du jazz semble-t-il. Auteur d’une dizaine de très bons albums, dont quatre sortis sur le label Tzadik de John Zorn, ce musicien new-yorkais pour le moins virtuose a étudié la guitare classique auprès du maître espagnol Andrés Segovia. Par la suite, il s’est frotté avec conviction au fado portugais, à la musique brésilienne (en incorporant le groupe Mandala), à la musique persane (avec Robayat) et la musique klezmer (à écouter notamment l’album Little Princess, paru cette année, dédié aux compositions du célèbre clarinettiste Naftule Brandwein et enregistré en trio, sur Tzadik, avec le contrebassiste Greg Cohen et le percussionniste Cyro Baptista). Autant dire que Tim Sparks cultive un éclectisme et une curiosité qui transpirent dans sa musique gourmande, jamais avare de nouvelles conquêtes et d’horizons non explorés. Une gourmandise sans frein qui trouve une fois encore à se manifester sans forcer sur son nouvel album solo, Sidewalk Blues.

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Sidewalk Blues

Dave Walker Music - Sidewalk Blues
November, 2009


Do you like good old-fashioned solo blues guitar? If so, then you will really want to check out Sidewalk Blues by Tim Sparks. This CD features a great selection of blues, rags, jazz, and spirituals. Tim Sparks has a fine technique and he does the songs proud. Beyond technique though, he has a great feel for the blues that you can hear in each of the 17 tracks on this CD.

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il Manifesto review
Concert in Rome with Greg Cohen and Cyro Baptista

Amanti dello stile chitarristico finger-picking, appassionati della musica della diaspora ebraica (radical jewish culture, come ama teorizzare John Zorn, che ne ha fatto un vessillo artistico e culturale), curiosi richiamati dai nomi del chitarrista Tim Sparks, del contrabbassista Greg Cohen (a lungo nel gruppo Masada) e del percussionista brasiliano Cyro Baptista si sono ritrovati al club La Palma il 24 sera. Sparks, proveniente dalla North Carolina, alunno di Jesus Silva, il protegé di And res Segovia, membro del gruppo Rio Nido e appassionato esploratore di tante culture sonore, ha pubblicato due importanti album per l'etichetta zorniana Tzadik basati sulla «jewish traditional music»: Neshamah, per sola chitarra, riprendeva e adattava brani da sorgenti yiddish, sefardite e orientali; Tanz - realizzato nel 2000 dal trio del concerto capitolino - proponeva, tra l'altro, il repertorio del leggendario clarinettista klezmer Naftule Brandwein ma anche materiali tradizionali provenienti dal Dagestan, dai Balcani, dallo Yemen e dalla Bulgaria.

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