Tom Varner is internationally known as the foremost jazz French horn player of his generation, and as an inventive, witty, and passionate composer, breaking new ground in his writing for small-group jazz. Over the years, he has composed for and led ensembles ranging from trios to big bands. As Nate Chinen (NY Times/Philadelphia City Paper) wrote in 2000, "Varner has a Mingus-like gift for intertwining complex counter-melodies in a manner that's more soulful than acrobatic. This approach creates countless opportunities for inspired improvisation, resulting in a marvel of cohesive ensemble writing and playing." At times, Tom's music reflects his former teachers Jaki Byard, George Russell, Steve Lacy (Tom played in his octet in the 90s), and jazz French horn master Julius Watkins, as well as other loves such as Stravinsky and Miles Davis.
Tom's newest project, Heaven and Hell, a new work for tentet, was premiered at the Seattle Art Museum and is now out on the OmniTone label. Tom's 11th CD, Second Communion, is a tribute to the 60's jazz pioneer Don Cherry. Tom's composition "Strident," from his 9th CD Swimming, won the 2000 Jazz Composers Alliance Julius Hemphill Composition Award. Varner's eighth CD, The Window Up Above: American Songs 1770-1998 (New World) was featured on NPR's All Things Considered. Tom has been awarded residencies at the MacDowell, Blue Mountain, Centrum, and Civitella arts colonies, a grant from the NEA, 4Culture, the Jack Straw Foundation, and the Doris Duke Foundation/Chamber Music America New Works composer's grant. He is an annual DownBeat Critics Poll finalist.
Varner has performed as a leader at the Vienna Konzerthaus (Parallel Worlds Festival), and the Seixal/Lisbon, Moers, Groningen, and Rotterdam Jazz Festivals, as well as countless appearances in New York and elsewhere in the USA, with sidemen Steve Wilson, Ed Jackson, Lee Konitz, Tony Malaby, Ellery Eskelin, Cameron Brown, Drew Gress, Dave Douglas, Mark Feldman, Mark Dresser, Bobby Previte, Billy Hart, and Tom Rainey.
As a sideman, Tom has worked in North and South America, Europe, Japan, and Russia, with leaders such as George Gruntz, Steve Lacy, Reggie Workman, Bobby Previte, John Zorn, the Mingus Orchestra, the Vienna Art Orchestra, Jamie Baum, Bobby Watson, Jane Ira Bloom, La Monte Young, Jim McNeeley, George Schuller, Peter Schaerli, Franz Koglmann, Butch Morris, Rabih Abou-Khalil, McCoy Tyner, and Quincy Jones with Miles Davis at Montreux in 1991. Tom wrote the music for the feature film "Saints and Sinners," and plays on over 70 other CDs as well.
After living in New York City for 26 years, Tom moved with his family to Seattle in fall 2005. Since the move, Tom has been active in the rich Pacific Northwest scene and has appeared at the Vancouver, Earshot, and Bumbershoot festivals, the Seattle Art Museum, Tula's, and the Good Shepherd Chapel, as a leader and sideman alongside many greats such as Mark Taylor (sax), Eric Barber, Francois Houle, Wayne Horvitz, Jim Knapp, Steve Griggs, and Phil Sparks. He is now adjunct horn instructor at the Cornish College of the Arts.