In an era when most musicians and their labels are searching for ways to get an edge in digital marketing, bassist Chris Tarry took a different route: He wrote a book.
Now, his Rest of the Story, which combines his quintet’s fourth CD with a collection of short speculative fiction, has been nominated for Juno awards in the best contemporary jazz and best packaging categories.
Tarry, 41 and Calgary-born but based in Brooklyn since 2003, has been quietly pursuing a second career as a writer for almost seven years.
“I’ve always been a big reader,” he says, “but the idea of being a writer never really took off.”
His music career – on his own, with the multi-Juno-winning Metalwood, and as a sideman on dozens of other recordings – was booming. Who had the time to write?
The GW Review opens Tarry’s first fiction door
When the GW Review agreed to publish Tarry’s short story “The Monster Business,” the strange tale of a 10-year-old monster fighter and his undead business partner Gary, he found the time.
“I started pursuing it, taking workshops, studying with people like Roy Kesey and Jim Shepard,” Tarry says. “I didn’t know it would be four years before I sold another story.”
Now, he has a portfolio that includes publications in a half-dozen literary journals and a story that was shortlisted for Ireland’s Fish Short Story Prize. In addition, Tarry’s midway through a masters of fine arts in creative writing at the University of British Columbia, a program he’s taking online, juggling it with music and the care of a seven-month-old daughter.
“It’s an interesting challenge going back to college when you’re 40,” Tarry explains. “My wife and I have a part-time nanny, which is the most we can afford, so I find myself doing assignments when I can fit them in. I do a lot of writing in hotel rooms and in the backs of tour vans.”
Delving deeply into a second type of creative expression has also been interesting, Tarry says. Writing has changed the way he composes music, for example.
“Creative writing is 80 per cent revision, while in music I’ve always been pretty spontaneous. The guys in my band are so good that they’ve been able to do a lot with what I’ve given them. Now, creative writing has made me a more patient composer.”
Tarry’s music career informs his writing, and vice versa
The musical component of Rest of the Story, which extends Tarry’s exploration of fluid electro-acoustic instrumentals in the tradition of Weather Report, features less improvisation than the quintet’s previous recordings.
“It’s much more through-composed than our earlier work, particularly the keyboard parts. I wrote it during a month-long residency in Banff, and for the first time ever I found myself throwing stuff out.”
By the same token, 25 years of making music in the moment has affected Tarry’s literary work, too.
“I think I can get into the voice of a story pretty quickly. One of my teachers has commented on my ability to riff on the humour in my stories, which I think comes directly from what’s second nature in my music.”
With the quintet gearing up for a full summer of touring on the jazz festival circuit and the first printing of the striking book/CD almost sold out, Tarry is making plans to re-package the music in a traditional jewel case and market the words-and-music combo as a digital download from his site.
“I was really fortunate to get Rethink [a Vancouver-based marketing agency] onboard for the book, so it didn’t cost me any more than a traditional CD,” he says. “The project has found a market among people who appreciate creative graphic design, which has exposed my music to a broader audience, but when the book is gone that’s it.”
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