Rock Hall, MD
July 1, 2015
Tim Sparks, an extraordinary fingerstyle guitarist will headline a free outdoor concert of early traditional country blues, gospel music, Jazz, Be Bop, classical and world music on the back deck of the Mainstay in Rock Hall, MD on Saturday July 11 at 7:00 p.m. Banjo Man (Tom McHugh) and Tom Anthony open the show with a set of folk, blues and mischief. Bring a comfortable chair. The concert will move indoors to the Mainstay in case of rain or extreme heat. Information is available at the Mainstay’s website www.mainstayrockhall.org. This free outdoor concert is sponsored by the Kent County Arts Council, People’s Bank, the Greater Rock Hall Business Association and The Mainstay.
Guitar Player Magazine has called Tim Sparks’ music “Fresh, exotic, and totally cool.” Acoustic Guitar Magazine has called it “rich and sensuous”, and guitarist Leo Kottke simply says “He’s really one of the best musicians I know.”
Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Sparks started picking out tunes by ear on an old Stella flat top during a bout of encephalitis that kept him out of school for a year. He taught himself to play the music he heard around him: traditional country blues and the gospel his grandmother played on piano in a small church in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
At 14, Sparks was nominated by a musically astute uncle for a scholarship at the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts. There he studied the classics with Segovia protégé Jesus Silva while continuing to play all kinds of music, increasingly turning to classic jazz for inspiration. He adapted compositions by Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, and Fats Waller to the guitar, frequently reducing piano arrangements to their essence.
While recording three albums with the seminal vocal jazz ensemble Rio Nido, Sparks also became proficient in jazz styles from Brazilian to Be Bop. During this time he arranged Carla Bley’s composition “Jesus Maria” for Leo Kottke.
Sparks’ interest in classical music led him to adapt Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite for guitar, a work that 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.
A sojourn abroad 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.
His work came to the attention of John Zorn, the saxophonist, composer, and curator of Tzadik Records in New York which led to a new cycle of compositions inspired by traditional Jewish melodies: “Neshamah” (1999), a solo effort. “Tanz”, which garnered Downbeat Magazine’s highest praise, five stars, in 2000 and “At the Rebbe’s Table” (2002). All three releases have been acclaimed by a broad spectrum of critics and listeners alike. Spring of 2003 saw the release of “Masada Guitars,” featuring 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. His most recent recording “Sidewalk Blues” is a mix of ragtime and Jazz from New Orleans to Harlem, country blues and gospel.
Sparks says, “In my show, I play roots-Americana fingerstyle guitar instrumentals of country blues and gospel and then I segue into 1920’s jazz and Klezmer and then I move into world music and then I play some of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite…[my goal] is to make this wonderful music enjoyable and accessible for an audience.”