Waterford native Tosh Sheridan cites roots in musical career
It's admittedly rare, but sometimes a high school rock dude takes a jagged left turn and … becomes a jazz guitarist.
What's even more astounding is when said musician becomes successful.
So it is with Waterford native Tosh Sheridan, an acoustic jazz guitarist who shares the stage Saturday night with an esteemed master of the form, Gene Bertoncini, in the Oasis Room of New London's Garde Arts Center.
A graduate of the Berklee School of Music, Sheridan is now carving a career in the talent-spangled New York City jazz scene.
"I'm completely psyched to be doing this show with Gene and in New London," says Sheridan by phone from his apartment in New York. "I wouldn't have thought a few years ago that I'd ever get to do a show with someone like Gene Bertoncini."
Sheridan is indeed establishing a fine reputation for his fluid and distinctive brand of soul-jazz; the Garde gig is no hometown-kid handout. He works regularly with several solo and duo gigs a week, has scored dance productions and short films, is recording his debut CD and, partly through his friendship with Bertoncini, rubs elbows increasingly with the cream of the city's players.
"In New York, there are a lot of places to play original music, which is always valuable even if it's not the easiest way to pay rent," Sheridan says. "At the same time, if you can also get work doing standards, that pays pretty well and it's also essential as a player. I've been lucky enough to get some really cool guitarists to play with me."
Sheridan cites Paul Meyers (Ron Carter, Wynton Marsalis, among many others) and John Stowell (Herb Ellis, Milt Jackson, many others) as two who have guested at gigs.
Sheridan also performs increasingly with Bertoncini. They met when Sheridan took weekly lessons from him at City College of New York, where he got his master's in 2000.
"I was already a big fan of Gene's music, and I didn't know he was an adjunct professor. That sealed the deal. Then, to find out he was an incredible teacher was just great. He pointed out what I needed to work on in such a way that I was encouraged and not defeated. He got me to see the big picture and the neck of the guitar in a totally new way," Sheridan says.
At the time, Bertoncini, known throughout the music community as "The Segovia of jazz" for his crystalline solo style, had a steady gig at a restaurant in Manhattan. Sheridan got into the habit of going weekly, and at a certain point, the mentor began inviting the student up onstage to play solo or in duet form.
"His gig there was always a favorite hangout for musicians," Sheridan says. "Gene's a very popular player with other musicians, and he would always invite me over and introduce me to these famous people. I can't say enough about him as a musician and teacher and as a friend."
The feelings are mutual.
"Tosh was just beginning to get the guitar together when he came to study with me," Bertoncini remembers in a phone conversation. "From the word go, he was very dedicated and was very devoted to the various disciplines necessary to make it as a player. He always came prepared, and it's been terrific to watch him grow over the years. He's developed his own style, and it's not an exaggeration to say the whole guitar community is aware of Tosh - and it's a pleasure having him part of that community."
Sheridan's Garde homecoming will connect a lot of dots with his past as a burgeoning rock star.
"Yeah, I was definitely into the classic rock and blues early on - the stuff anyone who starts playing is drawn to," Tosh says. "It was Guns N' Roses and Hendrix and Zeppelin." He laughs. "But somehow I got more into theory, and somehow jazz happened."
The son of Tony and Peggy Sheridan, Tosh says he started playing guitar at 13 and by high school was certain it was what he wanted to do with his life. He credits a variety of familial and local mentors as being behind him.
"My parents were completely supportive," he says. "And my first guitar teacher, Tom O'Farrell at Ron's Guitars in Groton, got me going in the right direction and made me want to learn theory and go about it in the right way."
Sheridan also says that Jim Stidfole, a former teacher at Waterford High School still active in the Hygienic Arts group in New London, was a major influence.
"Jim Stidfole was amazing," Sheridan remembers. "We had the standard rock band, and Jim helped us build our own recording studio and basically enforced the idea that we could do anything if we tried. Whatever crazy idea we'd come up with, Jim not only helped us figure out how to do it, he encouraged us to keep trying stuff. I just remember you could go to Stidfole with something, and he wouldn't laugh. He'd get more excited than I was. That means a lot when you're just starting out."
He also interned at Sonalyst when they were building their on-site recording studio.
"I learned a lot about the process of recording and how you harness energy and use your time," he says. "They were doing a lot of jingle work, and they'd give me a shot at editing. I'm sure they never used any of it, but they were willing to let me get my hands wet. And I've been lucky like that everywhere I've gone."
IF YOU GO
WHO: Jazz guitarists Gene Bertoncini with
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
Garde Arts Center, 325 State St.,
HOW MUCH: $25
INFO: (860) 444-7373, gardearts.org
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