Tom Schuman has been the keyboardist for Spyro Gyra since the beginning. He’s been on every recording by the perennial contemporary jazz band and has penned at least 40 of the songs on those recordings. During the 40+ year career of the group, he’s had a handful of solo albums. Fifteen years ago this month, he released Schuman Nature, an acoustic, straight ahead effort. At the time, ContemporaryJazz.com interviewed Schuman. Here a couple of highlights from that 2003 interview:
Q: How did you meet Jay [Beckenstein, Spyro Gyra leader] in the first place.
A: I was this kid in Buffalo, this teenage prodigy that everybody was talking about. So I walk into the club where Jay and Jeremy Wall had their Tuesday night jams before there was a Spyro Gyra. He band was called Tuesday Night Jam at a place called Jack Daniels. I walk in and Jay had heard about me through the grapevine and said come on up and play. I didn’t know him, I didn’t know anybody. I just started playing. He said immediately that “Wow you are something else would you like to be on our first record. We have new material and we’d like to put this record together.” I’m like “sure.” This was like my first recording session. It was a pleasure to work with those guys. The music was diverse. It wasn’t just all jazz, but it wasn’t all Funk or all Latin music it was a mixture of stuff which I really enjoyed.
Q: Who is your favorite keyboardist?
A: Joe Zawinul is my favorite keyboard player on the planet. He doesn’t sound like keyboards. He sounds like some unearthly thing. He makes everything some completely unique to him and it’s an amazing feat. You buy a Korg Tritent for instance now and you have your stock sounds. I don’t know how much time he spends on this, but Zawinul goes in and just tweaks them out of shape completely into something different. I’m sure that he has a lot of programmers that work with him. His son is a brilliant engineer. Every time I go to hear him play I’m amazed by the sounds that are coming out of his setup. He has like 19 peddles on the bottom. He’s got everything wired together. All the midi and rack stuff is all wired together. He just brings them up with volume pedals. Nobody does that. I dig the way he goes about being spontaneous with the keyboard technology which is hard to do when you press one button and you got and you can sequence anything. He’s a great live player for that kind of stuff. That’s what I try to do and stay live with it instead of using sequencers and mini discs. If anything I’ll use samplers to recreate the original acoustic instruments.