Until you’ve seen it performed live, the music of Chapman Stick player Tom Griesgraber sounds too big to be real. There are acoustic guitar or piano-like moments, funk rock bass lines, ambient synth and soundscape textures, rock guitar leads, jazz solos and even small bits of percussion sometimes all happening simultaneously. To the uninitiated listener it sounds like an ensemble, but to those who have seem him live, it is the magic of a unique virtuoso.
As an honors graduate of the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1995, Tom had already developed a strong foundation in the mechanics of music along with a thorough proficiency on the electric guitar. But he yearned for more: he became weary of conventional methods and was compelled to seek out a more atypical means of making music.
This soul-searching came to a new beginning when Tom discovered the Chapman Stick, taking up the unique 12-string instrument shortly after watching a performance by Tony Levin with Jerry Marotta and Steve Gorn in 1997. In a dramatic move, Tom put his creative career on hold, set aside the guitar, and focused on the fresh and still mostly unexplored territory of the often unrecognized Chapman Stick. “Logically that decision didn’t make much sense,” says Griesgraber. “It really felt like starting over, but I just knew I had to do it. I believe every one of us has a purpose in life and if we concentrate on doing what we feel called to do, no matter the risks, things work out for the best.”
Developed by musician Emmett Chapman in the early 70s, The Chapman Stick used by Griesgraber combines six guitar strings tuned in fourths with six bass strings tuned in fifths. Notes are “tapped” rather than strummed allowing the player to create separate parts in each hand with a variety of guitar and bass-like sounds. Taking things even further, Tom adds a third synthesizer output on the guitar side and incorporates live looping and synth pedals into his performances.
Today Griesgraber is one of the world’s most respected and active performers on The Stick. He has toured as an opening act and guest for more than eighty US shows with the California Guitar Trio, toured the US and Europe with drummer Jerry Marotta as the duo Marotta/Griesgraber and opened numerous shows for artists like The Tony Levin Band, The League of Crafty Guitarists, The Dixie Dregs, Steve Hackett, Adrian Belew, Al Dimeola, Stanley Jordan, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather, Muriel Anderson, Tower of Power, Asia, Michael Manring, Tim Reynolds, Jazz Mandolin Project and The Bad Plus. At the request of Recording Academy (Grammy’s) president Neil Portnow, he has also performed for the Academy’s Board of Trustees as well as the Academy’s Holiday Party and the 2004 Grammy Awards Show Post Party. In addition to his solo performances, Tom also performs regularly with his group Agent 22 and as a duo with Bert Lams of the California Guitar Trio.
To date, Griesgraber has released seven recordings; two solo albums, two with his group Agent 22, two with guitarist Bert Lams and one as a collaboration with drummer Jerry Marotta. All of them reflect both his live shows and his eclectic tastes in music, with pieces ranging in style from progressive or “art” rock to jazz, acoustic music and ambient electronic. “Sketchbook,” his most recent solo release is perhaps the most diverse of all and features stunning contributions from musicians Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Bert Lams (California Guitar Trio), Peter Sprague (Chick Corea) and Ryan Moran (Agent 22, Slightly Stoopid).