Over the last 20 years as a teacher, performer and bandleader, Tim Olsen has been celebrating—but not recording—the vast range of styles in jazz. With the release of his debut CD, Creature of Habit, we finally have a record of that celebration.
“It took a while for the stars to align,” said Olsen, associate professor of music. It can take years to write enough music for a 70-plus minute CD, find the right musicians and coordinate their schedules, he said. Also, he wanted to record with a respected major label (Planet Arts) whose musicians also include luminaries such as the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Terrell Stafford, Dick Oatts and Randy Brecker.
Recorded in March of 2014 in Taylor Music Center’s Emerson Auditorium with support from a Union College Humanities Research Fund Grant, the album features nine of Olsen’s jazz compositions performed by a six-piece band.
Olsen, a native of Minnesota, was raised on Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Maynard Ferguson. A pianist who also plays trumpet, he cites the influence of Horace Silver, Ramsey Lewis, Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans.
He joined Union in 1994, teaching courses in the music and culture of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa; music theory; and jazz improvisation. He is also director of the Union College Jazz Ensemble.
Outside of Union, Olsen is one of the region’s most active musicians. He has regular gigs that range from solo piano to jazz combo to big band to church organist. For many years he played with the Joey Thomas Big Band, for which he wrote dozens of arrangements.. He enlists many of his musician friends to perform in his popular “History of Jazz” course.
For his students, Olsen has a simple goal: “I want them to understand that even though jazz gets a modest market share, it is very much an American art form, an American invention as much as baseball.”