The National Jazz Museum in Harlem
Become a Member
104 E. 126th Street • Suite 4D • New York, NY 10035
Louis Armstrong
Visitors Center
Video Archive
Savory Collection

Past Events

Jazz for Curious Listeners
Polymaths: Tom Artin
June 11, 2013

This month's Jazz For Curious Listeners are inspired by the "A Harlem Family 1967" Gordon Parks exhibit at the Studio Museum in Harlem. We are presenting four polymaths whose lives have a significant intersection between jazz and other interests.

Tom Artin was born in 1938 in Bloomington, Indiana, the youngest son of a prominent mathematician. In 1946, the family moved to Princeton, NJ, where his father joined the mathematics faculty of the University. In the heady academic atmosphere of this family, it was expected that he would pursue a similar career path.

Following graduation from Princeton High School in 1956, he did in fact enter Princeton University as a freshman, and took a B.A. degree in English in 1960. He taught secondary school English for several years, before returning to Princeton to take a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, with a concentration in medieval literature. His first major teaching job after graduate school was at Swarthmore College, where he was a member of the English Department for four years. His primary field of expertise there was Chaucer, though he also taught a course in the theory of poetry. He continued his career in college teaching until 1979, the year he was granted tenure at SUNY Rockland Community College, when he resigned to take up a career as a full-time jazz trombonist.

He continued to pursue his scholarly interests, which now included the operas of Richard Wagner. He wrote "The Wagner Complex," which was published last year, joining several other scholarly books on his resume, along with "Earth Talk: Independent Voices on the Environment," a journalistic report of the 1972 U.N. Conference on the Human Environment. He has also published a volume of poetry: "Ephemera and Other Poems."

Tom had begun playing jazz in Junior High School in a band organized by the now celebrated American composer John Harbison. When he was a sophomore in high school, he was recruited by an undergraduate jazz band at Princeton University, with which in the summer of 1955 he made a tour of Europe. Since then, he has played throughout the U.S. and Europe with a number of world renowned jazz groups including the Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble (1981-84), the Louis Armstrong Alumni All-Stars, the World of Jelly Roll Morton, the World's Greatest Jazz Band, and Wild Bill Davison. He played lead trombone in Mel Tormé's big band, recorded live at Michael's Pub in New York, and has played with Bob Wilber's Benny Goodman revival big band. Festival credits include Kool Jazz in New York and Baltimore, the Illinois Jazz Festival, the North Carolina Jazz Festival, the Atlanta Jazz Party, the Guinness Jazz Festival in Ireland, the Floating Jazz Festival aboard the S.S. Norway, The Lugano Jazz Festival and the Ascona Jazz Festival, both in Switzerland. For about five years he was the house trombonist at Eddie Condon's in New York, having inherited the seat of his childhood idol, Vic Dickenson. In 1994, he performed at the White House for the annual Christmas Congressional Ball. In 1999, he appeared as guest artist at Rome's celebrated jazz club Alexanderplatz. Beginning in 2006, he has appeared regularly as guest artist with John Harbison at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. He has played on movie and television soundtracks, and appears on numerous recordings.

Another childhood passion that Tom took up again professionally in later years was photography. His subjects range from landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes to portraits, florals and still lifes. He also does a significant amount of commercial photography for both print and the web. Artin began taking, developing and printing images in the early 1950s.

The majority of Artin's photographs originate as medium format images shot on film with vintage Rolleiflexes and a Hasselblad, though he also works with 4"x5" and 8"x10" view cameras. In recent years, he has added digital cameras to his toolbox. In the digital lightroom, he processes images scanned from negatives and transparencies in Photoshop, and prints onto water-color type papers via Conetech Piezography, a Quad-tone digital black and white printing process developed for the Epson inkjet printers.

In the 1950's Artin outfitted his own dedicated dark-room at home, and devoted his high school senior chemistry project to the chemistry of photography, which included fabricating and printing on his own photographic paper. In 1956, he worked as photographic assistant to William Vandivert, staff photographer for Life and Time magazines, and one of the founders of Magnum. Tom's photographic career ran in parallel with a career as medieval scholar and college teacher, and then as a professional jazz musician. He has had numerous solo exhibitions, both in the U.S. and in Germany. Many of his images have been printed and are distributed as posters by McGaw Graphics. Most recently, he has published "March On!," a book of his photographs of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.


Part 1:  Click for Audio

Part 2:  Click for Audio

This jazz site is part of