User:Desalane/Jim Tisdall

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Jim Tisdall
Birth name James Dana Tisdall
Genres Jazz, Blues, Classical
Occupation(s) Musician, Scientist
Instruments Guitar
Years active 1960s-2010s
Associated acts Nico
Chuck Anderson
James Cotton
Gittler guitar Allan Gittler
Max Mathews

Jim Tisdall [1] is an American guitarist, composer and scientist from Philadelphia, now living in Baltimore, Maryland. His recordings and compositions span jazz, blues, and classical, and feature notable players such as the Grammy-nominated roots/blues/folk guitarist David Bromberg, the jazz bassist and composer Tyrone Brown [2] , the multiple-Grammy winning producer/engineer/recordist Neil Dorfsman [3] , the innovative Allan Gittler and his Gittler guitar and bass; and the percussionist/producer Daoud Shaw [4]. In science he has worked at Bell Labs, Fox Chase Cancer Center, the Human Genome Project, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and DuPont, and has discovered fundamental principles of the mathematics of music [5] , and co-discovered many genes.


As a teenager Tisdall fronted some successful rock bands in the Philadelphia area, recorded film soundtracks in his first studio jobs, and worked as a sideman, for instance with jazz guitarist Chuck Anderson. He also played one evening with the Buddy Guy Blues Band, and in following years Buddy showed him some of his guitar techniques, such as the B. B. King-like blues vibrato.

Tisdall's music career involved teaching,studio recording work, and performing in Los Angeles, New York City, and Tennessee. He played informally with Walter Becker of Steely Dan, and performed many times in New York (for instance at the Mudd Club) and on tour with Nico (formerly of the Velvet Underground.) His work with Nico was recently the subject of a chapter in a book Luul by Lutz Ulbrich [6] [7] . Tisdall also worked in cabaret backing up various artists at Reno Sweeney's, the premier New York cabaret nightclub, where he doubled on harp, flute, and bass guitar. For two years he was the staff guitarist at Oenophilia in New York, where he performed classical guitar music on the Gittler guitar, for example for a private family gathering of Elizabeth Taylor and for James Levine. He performed "experimental" music as part of the "downtown music scene" with minimalist composers, free-jazz improvisers, and computer musicians. He did the music for a few plays, in New York City and elsewhere.

He played as a sidemen or guest with Nico (of the Velvet Underground), the James Cotton Blues Band, the Buddy Guy Blues Band, jazz guitarist Chuck Anderson [8] , the German rock band 17 Hippies, among others. He also worked and studied in electronic music with the pioneer of digital music Max Mathews, and with composers Charles Dodge and Paul Lansky.

Tisdall worked as a teacher at Medley Music and at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, and also taught privately and at music schools in Los Angeles and New York City. His approach is modeled on that of Dennis Sandole with whom he studied as a young man; and of Chuck Anderson, another Sandole student who helped write and first published Sandole's seminal book Guitar Lore [9]. (Sandole is best known as John Coltrane's theory teacher, who introduced the saxophonist to modes, exotic scales, and advanced harmonic and compositional techniques.)

More recently Tisdall has been playing regularly with David Bromberg in Wilmington, Delaware and making CDs with him and others.

The CD Three Men In a Boat [10] is an instrumental trio. The music features Jim Tisdall and David Bromberg equally on acoustic guitars, and Tyrone Brown on double bass. It includes four originals by Tisdall. The project was recorded and mixed by Daoud Shaw.

The CD Three Two (Three Men In a Boat, Volume Two)[11] is an instrumental trio, with the same personnel as Three Men In a Boat. In addition to the acoustic format of the previous album, Three Two includes jazz tunes performed by Tisdall on Fender Stratocaster, Gibson L5, Eclectic Guitar (a specially modified Gittler guitar), and Fender Precision Bass. The music is mostly originals by Tisdall, and features some great slide guitar by David Bromberg.

The solo guitar suite How To Hold A Hummingbird [12] was released in 2009. It is contemporary classical guitar music, performed on an acoustic guitar and composed by Tisdall. It is quiet, imagist, and mostly dreamy. Bassist Tyrone Brown also makes a few short appearances on the CD. Three Two and Hummingbird were recorded by Daoud Shaw and by Tisdall, and mixed by multiple-Grammy-winning Neil Dorfsman.

Music and Science[edit]

While working as a musician in New York City Tisdall met Charles Dodge, the award-winning electronic composer, and studied computer music with him at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. This led to a job working in digital sound and speech with the inventor of digital music Max Mathews at the legendary Bell Labs Acoustic Principles Research Laboratory. While there Tisdall published a paper that established a formal language for musical rhythm, which Max Mathews said "solved the problem of rhythm." [13] He also took care of Mathews' music computers, helped him build his electric violins, and studied computer music composition.


Tisdall later used the computer and mathematics skills he gained at Bell Labs for a job with the Human Genome Project in the new field called bioinformatics, where he was possibly the first to use the Perl language in biology. He later published two well-known books on the topic, Beginning Perl for Bioinformatics [14][15][16] and Mastering Perl for Bioinformatics [17] with O'Reilly Publishers. He has since worked in genetic discovery while simultaneously pursuing his musical career, and teaches a yearly intensive two-week course in bioinformatics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory [18] . He is currently a Research Scientist and Principal Investigator at DuPont in Genetic Discovery.


  1. ^ Jim Tisdall
  2. ^ Tyrone Brown
  3. ^ Neil Dorfsman
  4. ^ Daoud Shaw
  5. ^ Tisdall, J.: On Rhythm, Bell Laboratories Technical Memorandum, 1987.
  6. ^ Lutz Ulbrich
  7. ^ Ulbrich, Lutz, Luul: Ein Musikerleben zwischen Agitation Free, Ashra, Nico, der Neuen Deutschen Welle und den 17 Hippies, Schwartzkopf and Schwartzkopf, 2007
  8. ^ Chuck Anderson
  9. ^ Sandole, D: Guitar Lore, Anderson Publishing Company 1974; Theodore Presser Pub, 1979]
  10. ^ Tisdall, Jim: Three Men In A Boat, 2008,
  11. ^ Tisdall, Jim: Three Two (Three Men In a Boat, Volume Two),
  12. ^ Tisdall, Jim: How To Hold A Hummingbird, A Suite For Guitar,
  13. ^ Mathews, Max: personal communication
  14. ^ Tisdall, James: Beginning Perl for Bioinformatics, O'Reilly Publishers, 2003
  15. ^ Review by Peter Rice (2002), Briefings in Bioinformatics 3 (2): 210–212, doi:10.1093/bib/3.2.210.
  16. ^ Review by Michael R. Seringhaus (2002), The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 75 (4): 239.
  17. ^ Tisdall, James: Mastering Perl for Bioinformatics, O'Reilly Publishers, 2005
  18. ^ Tisdall, James et al., Programming for Biology, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory