“Note for note – give it up for Tom O’Grady y’all” – Don Blackman
Tom photographed at McCaw Hall, Seattle © 2005 Erinn J Hale
WHERE IS HE NOW?
Tom is a Cambridge / London based keyboard player whose playing and listening ability have already brought him experience of performing at venues such as the Jazz Cafe, the IndigO2 arena and the Big Chill festival main stage, whilst recording in world famous studios including Abbey Road and Sunset Sound (in LA). Blessed (and sometimes cursed) with perfect pitch, Tom can play or notate nearly all music he hears, just from listening to it. His main inspiration is Herbie Hancock; Tom has transcribed many of Herbie’s tracks precisely (see his youtube channel) and his arsenal of vintage keyboards (suitcase Fender Rhodes mk1 88 key model, Hohner Clavinet D6, Solina String Ensemble) reflect the set-up that Herbie used on his classic albums of the ’70’s. Tom also considers Jerry Peters, the Mizell Brothers, Matthew Larkin Cassell and of course Don Blackman as his main influences. Tom has recorded, co-written and performed as part of the Beauty Room band, a highly-regarded band that draws its influences from artists such as Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan. He is also currently working with the hugely talented Myles Sanko, an incredible soul singer, who will shortly be releasing his solo project. Tom is also lucky enough to perform with the great blues singer and guitarist, Dave Thomas. Tom is always concentrating on his development as a musician and still has classical and jazz piano lessons in addition to exploring as many different genres as possible. He is also a consummate professional, having a reputation for being cheerful, easy-going and habitually on time (or early!). If you’re interested in having Tom perform with your band or record on your project, please get in touch through the contact page on this site.
HOW DID HE GET THERE?
Tom’s professional playing career started with an e-mail exchange with the musician / producer Kirk Degiorgio about Herbie Hancock (regarding a rare promotional flexidisc – nerd alert!) Kirk ended up asking Tom to play keyboards on a remix of a track by the Detroit trombonist, Phil Ranelin. Tom subsequently played on numerous tracks of Kirk’s solo albums (usually under the ‘As One’ moniker – see the discography page) and was involved right from the birth of the project that became the Beauty Room. Tom and Kirk covered Weldon Irvine and Don Blackman’s classic track ‘I Love You’. Together with Kirk, Tom arranged the disco song ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This’ (by David Matthews) for symphony orchestra and rhythm section, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy in Seattle. They performed their arrangement at McCaw Hall in Seattle, with Tom playing the Fender Rhodes on stage. Tom then sat in and jammed with the world famous Detroit techno outfit, Underground Resistance! During that time, Tom was lucky enough to work with Bob Power (producer for acts including Erykah Badu, The Roots, D’Angelo etc), Eumir Deodato, Clare & Brent Fischer (arrangers for Prince) and Todd Simon (Breakestra, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra etc). Tom’s work with the Beauty Room then took him to London venues such as Cargo and Hackney Empire and he played a special acoustic set with the Beauty Room singer Jinadu at the Big Chill Bar. The Beauty Room performed a live Maidavale session for Gilles Peterson’s ‘Worldwide’ show on BBC R1 and played on the main stage at the Big Chill Festival in Eastnor. Recording began for the next album and Tom travelled to LA to record piano parts at the renowned Sunset Studios, playing on the piano that Prince used to record ‘Purple Rain’. The Beauty Room have been signed to the ‘Far Out’ label and the eagerly-awaited second album is due out in summer 2012. Last year, Tom played on stage twice with the great Don Blackman (performing the piano solo from Heart’s Desire).
WHERE DID HE COME FROM?
Tom started playing the piano aged 4 (taught by his Mum) – even before he could properly talk, he would often clamber out of bed (having supposedly been put to sleep) and listen from the bannisters at the top of the stairs whilst his Dad played the likes of Gershwin, Brahms and Chopin at night. By the time he reached grade 7, Tom started taking lessons from the pianist Julian Hellaby. He gave a solo recital (including Liszt’s Ballade No 2) when he left school, and performed ‘Ondine’ from Gaspard De La Nuit whilst he studied at Cambridge. Tom’s main influences are Liszt, Ravel, Rachmaninov and Prokoviev.
Tom took up the trombone aged 10 (having played the tenor horn for 2 years whilst waiting for his arms to grow long enough) in order to sound like Tommy Dorsey. He studied under Paul Russell (and later Simon Hogg) and gained a DipABRSM and an LRSM in performance by age 18, having narrowly missed out on an ARCM when he was 16 (one of the best things that ever happened to him).
By age 16 Tom had really grown to love Jamiroquai and had gone back to collect their earliest albums (having first heard ‘Travelling Without Moving’). He knew he loved the sound of the Rhodes piano but didn’t yet know that that was what he was hearing. A friend recommended that he listen to ‘Headhunters’ so he got it out of the school CD library and put Chameleon on whilst waiting for a brass ensemble rehearsal to start after school. He was blown away by what he heard. From that moment on, Tom set about hearing everything that Herbie Hancock had ever done. He tracked down all of Herbie’s 70’s albums, many many live recordings – and set to work getting his hands on the instruments that Herbie used to create those incredible sounds. Tom eventually found a pristine suitcase Rhodes and imported it from the US, using the bulk of his student loan for that particular year. Then followed a Clavinet, which still had its price tag and came in the original cardboard box – it had been discovered in a warehouse in Germany. Meanwhile, Tom’s collection of Herbie Hancock live recordings had put him in contact with similar fans of Herbie’s music, and he started corresponding with Bob Belden and the great producer David Rubinson. The collection of live recordings (compiled with the Herbie Hancock expert Max Schlueter) was catalogued and then sent to the band members. There is still hope that Sony will one day released the entire Headhunters recording session – Chameleon originally weighed in at 23 minutes long!
Tom photographed at 2012 video shoot for Myles Sanko project, photograph © 2012 Melle Severine L (click on photo for link)