Jim Tisdall: Capturing life’s music
Guitarist Jim Tisdall lives in Chestnut Hill and also dwells at the cutting edge of science. His new CD features Grammy nominee David Bromberg, jazz great Tyrone Brown, and familiar tunes that have made it a best-selling album.
Tisdall, 56, finds himself equally at home with innovations in sound. “I worked at Bell Laboratories with Max Mathews, who invented digital music,” Tisdall said. While working with Mathews, Tisdall studied composition and acoustics, built electric violins, and wrote a paper that uncovers the mathematics of rhythm. One of Tisdall’s current projects is a CD of “good music based on new sounds derived from the guitar’s natural sounds.”
Tisdall also pioneered the use of Perl, a computer language, in biology. “Ten years ago, most biologists didn’t know how to program a computer, yet computers could help them make scientific discoveries that were otherwise impossible,” Tisdall said. He bridged the gap with his two computer science bestsellers: Beginning Perl for Bioinformatics in 2001 and Mastering Perl for Bioinformatics in 2003. “They’ve been translated into Japanese, Korean, French and German,” Tisdall said.
addition, Tisdall worked at the frontier of science as a member of the
suspects that Tisdall has found a way to expand time in order to fit in
projects like “Three Men in a Boat,” his CD released in June. This mellow music includes old favorites like
Music, science and serendipity have intertwined in Tisdall’s life. He began studying violin and piano at age 6. Then fate stepped in. “When I was 12 I found an abandoned guitar and instruction book,” he said. Within months, he was studying with Chuck Anderson, staff guitarist at the Latin Casino, Valley Forge Music Fair and the Shubert Theatre. Talent and good fortune paved the way for him to continue his studies with Dennis Sandole, whose former students included the incomparable saxophonist John Coltrane. “John Coltrane has inspired me since I first heard his great album, A Love Supreme, in my teens.” When he met Sandole, Tisdall, in his early 20s, had been teaching for years using the Sandole method.
By then, Tisdall
literally had a world of experience.
He’d done gigs in Philly night clubs, taught in LA and
In his mid-20s he
During those years Tisdall met Charles Dodge, award-winning composer of electronic music and co-author of Computer Music: Synthesis, Composition and Performance, and wound up studying with Dodge at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music.
Then chance crossed Tisdall’s path again. “I was riding in the subway when I sat next to a man reading a book on higher mathematics,” he recalled. Tisdall and the math professor fell into conversation. Before Tisdall reached his stop the professor said, “You ought to get into mathematics.”
cut back on his playing and composing and by 1988 he had earned a B.A. in
mathematics from City College of New York and joined Bell Labs. By 1989, he had a master’s degree in computer
fellowship from Penn’s Department of Computer and Information Science brought
Tisdall back to his home turf. That
position led to his work on the Human Genome Project. “We worked on chromosome 22,” he said. “Defects in the
did a couple of stints as a computational biologist and as a research
consultant prior to his current position, research scientist and principal investigator
in genetic discovery with DuPont in
From those jam sessions came the collaboration for “Three Men in a Boat.” “David Bromberg and I both play guitar on the CD and Tyrone Brown plays bass,” Tisdall said. “Tyrone has recorded and performed with the likes of Grover Washington and Lou Rawls. I felt honored that they recorded with me. David is incredibly good. Tyrone is a legendary jazz performer and composer.”
Besides work and music, Tisdall manages to find time for swimming and a daily yoga practice. He also writes poetry and has read a poem from his collection, “How to Hold a Hummingbird,” at a local college. “I write about nature, love and loss,” Tisdall said.
who’s divorced, has three children. “My
daughter Rose is 24,” he said, “and she’s attending graduate school at the
“Joe is also a wonderful musician,” Tisdall said. “I’ve learned a lot about music from all my children.” This from a man who has had more than 1,000 students over the years. “I’m going to continue studying all my life,” Tisdall said. “You can always find someone who knows something you don’t.”
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