Francesca Tanksley Trio
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Francesca Tanksley Trio

Stone Ridge, New York, United States

Stone Ridge, New York, United States
Band Jazz


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"eye Recordings"

Pianist Francesca Tanksley and her trio are among the jazz world’s best-kept secrets. A working unit for 20 years, they’ve been “hidden” inside the quintet of the remarkable tenor saxophonist Billy Harper. Here the trio steps out on its own, and, lo and behold, it turns out that a second, terrific band was growing all the while inside the larger one.

On “Journey,” Tanksley’s first recording, she leads bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker through a program that includes midnight ballads and modal workouts. It’s music that moves from the serene to the furious and culminates with “Prayer,” a modern jazz spiritual of almost painful intensity, sung by guest Judy Bady.

The nine compositions are all Tanksley’s, the performances full of fine detail: Baker’s feather-like touch to his cymbals, which sing and sizzle; Seay’s deep-down bass lines, which buoy the band. And Tanklsey is such a deep, grounded player; she knows exactly what she’s up to, doesn’t reach for effect. One could say that she incorporates some of the harmonic influences of Bill Evans, and can build rhythmic and emotional intensity like McCoy Tyner. But, really, she’s way beyond influences. Her playing is fluid and full of moments of discovery. You can hear it, as she finds and then explores a beautiful bit of melody in the middle of a solo.

There’s not a phony or forced note in the set. In fact, “Journey” improves with each listening. The music grows clearer as the listener grows familiar with all the nooks and crannies of this trio’s musical world.

- Richard Scheinin
- San Jose Mercury News


Taking center stage for the first time on Journey, Francesca Tanksley shows herself worthy of the spotlight, both as a composer and a pianist. Performing for over 15 years with the Billy Harper Quintet gave her the tools and perhaps the confidence to make this leap. It also provided her with some fabulous band-mates in bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker.

Tanksley’s Journey starts with a couple of kicking tunes in “Into the Light” and “Dance in the Question,” both of which showcase the trio’s collective chops and the fact that they are way locked in, giving each other room to breathe and support to shine. The titles really speak volumes about the pieces themselves, as “In Grace” and “Simple Heart” take things down a few notches, allowing the trio’s tender side to come out in all its marvelously understated glory. As with most great love songs, it’s hard to tell whether the heartstrings being plucked are of a romantic or spiritual nature. Jump to the other little ditties such as “Trickster” and “Journey Without Distance,” and you can likely guess what you’re in for. On “Trickster,” for instance, Tanksley once again sets her solo artist ego aside and lets her players step out one at a time with a mischievous, playful bounce.

-- Kelly McCartney
- Chronogram


This 2003 release signifies New York City-based pianist/composer Francesca Tanksley's inaugural solo effort. She's been performing with modern jazz saxophonist Billy Harper for a number of years amid stints with trombonist Slide Hampton and others. Here, she performs alongside fellow “Billy Harper Quintet” band-mates, bassist Clarence Penn and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. A surprising debut indeed, as Ms Tanksley's strong sense of swing is tempered by her penchant for altering the various rhythmic interludes with lush harmonics and wistful melodies. And the trio's synergy comes to fruition from the onset. The pianist often delves deep into these various frameworks to complement a series of lightly crashing cadenzas. Tanksley's fluent right hand, single note lines are nicely augmented by her rhythmically oriented block chords. The pianist's compositions are marked by climactic episodes, where she tinkers with the primary melodies, as a means for extended improvisational forays. Moreover, guest vocalist Judy Brady lends here wares for the emotively constructed work titled, “Prayer.” Overall, this CD should accelerate Ms Tanksley's stature within modern jazz circles.

‹ Glenn Astarita
- All Music Guide

"Francesca Tanksley - Journey"

Il y a malheureusement à parier que Francesca Tanksley sera une découverte pour la plupart de nos lecteurs. Cette new-yorkaise a pourtant joué avec Robin Eubanks et Steve Turre, Howard Johnson, Erica Lindsay, Tony Reedus, Chamett Moffett, Slide Hampton, Eddie Henderson. Mais elle est surtout connue, comme ses complices, pour sa collaboration depuis douze ans avec Billy Harper.
Elle impose ici un style de grande envergure qui s'inscrit dans la continuité de McCoy Tyner ("Into the Light"), de Stanley Cowell ("Trick- ster"), JoAnne Brackeen, et John Hicks par sa puissance orchestrale et son raffinement harmonique. Le romantisme de Bill Evans ne lui est pas étranger (" Simple Heart ", " Earnestly... "). Elle passe volontiers d'une profondeur mélancolique très touchante (" In Grace " et " Earnestly, Tenderly ") à des tourbillons hypnotiques musclés ("Journey... ", " Never Defeated "). < Dance in the Question " (souvent interprétée par Billy Harper) est l'une de ses plus belles compositions - et comme tous les morceaux sont dus à sa plume et génèrent des ambiances très particu- lières, on se dit que le jazz possède encore décidément de nombreuses voix inexplorées. La rythmique, un brin hiératique, possède te poids qu'on lui connaît auprès de Billy Harper, avec un Clarence Seay dans l'esprit de Reggie Workman et Jimmy Garrison, et un Newman Taylor Baker dans le sillage d'Elvin Jones et Billy Hart. Cerise sur le gâteau, " Prayer " est une incantation gospel où Judy Bady est d'une autorité émouvante.
Francesca Tanksley possède une grâce et une poigne qui sont le signe d’une styliste déterminée comme on en rencontre peu.

Jean Szlamowicz
- Jazz Hot

"Featured Artist: Francesca Tanksley"

Francesca Tanksley has held down the piano chair in the Billy Harper Quintet for 15 years. None of the exquisite playing glimpsed in that format prepares for the power unleashed on this breathtaking self-produced work. This is mesmerizing, captivating and monumental music. Joined by drummer Newman Taylor Baker and bassist Clarence Seay, mates from the Harper group, the pianist assays a far reaching and emotionally draining program that is as full of surprising changes as it is of breathtaking performance. A lush and powerful pianist who frequently reminds of McCoy Tyner, she is decidedly a musician who owes allegiance to none but her own muse. This is a brilliant, commanding and original artist. Her domination of the instrument is apparent from the opening notes of “Into the Light,” a sprightly Latin-tinged composition for two very busy hands. “Trickster,” on which Baker shines, is a quick-paced piece on which Tanksley dances with varying tempos. Even on the beautifully contemplative “Simple Heart” there is an obvious power in her approach, a wellspring of emotion from which she draws repeatedly and unendingly. “Journey Without Distance,” on which the Tyner comparisons might best be drawn, not only shines light on her performing proficiency, but as notably on her compositional skills. Seay is heard to fine effect here, as well. “Prayer” features an amazing guest vocalist in Judy Bady, who has also worked with Harper in the past, as well as with Jon Hendricks. Her approach is somewhere between Abby Lincoln and Leon Thomas and just as powerful as either. On the closing “Never Defeated,” the Tanksley trio delivers an elegant and mid-tempo number that again evinces shades of mid-70s Tyner while retaining an originality that sets it apart. Released in 2002, this is one of the most dynamic collections of piano jazz released in years. -- Mark E. Gallo -

"Francesca Tanksley"

”The music ... is informed, but not imprisoned, by its influences ... the leader clearly has learned much from select models, and has also moved well beyond mimicry and toward achieving a distinctive voice.

With her fancy for rolling octave tremolos, insistent pedal points and long pentatonic lines, Francesca Tanksley (2) shows a clear predilection for the work of Mccoy Tyner. Certainly that's what makes her an appropriate accompanist for tenor saxophonist Billy Harper who has shaped his own distinctive sound from his study of Tyner's mentor, John Coltrane. A glance at the titles shows that Tanksley, like Tyner, also has a spiritual dimension to her work. She gives full expression to this aspect of her aesthetic on the aptly named "Prayer", featuring the rich alto of Judy Bady whose single appearance makes me wish for more. The rest of the session is devoted to her compositions, all of which prove appropriate vehicles for her piano work with the line between preconceived material and improvisation very thin. The ballads "Earnestly, Tenderly" and “In Grace" demonstrate a gentle eloquence that contrasts with the pulsating quality of the other material. The leader wisely draws on the talents of her regular Harper section-mates bassist Seay and drummer Baker, for support. They sound very much like a working unit rather than a pickup band. A fine debut.”


- Cadence

"Journey - Francesca Tanksley"

After years of playing as an acclaimed side musician and being a mainstay in the Billy Harper Quintet, pianist Francesca Tanksley has debuted with Journey. Joining her on this trio set are her fellow rhythm section players from Harper’s quintet, bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker.

All of the songs on Journey are her originals, composed over a 12-year period. The opening tune, “Into the Light”, is a bright, mid-to-uptempo tune in which Tanksley displays a lithe and active left hand. “Dance In the Question” opens with a short statement by Baker, then launches into shifting rhythms, a staple of her composing. Tanksley and Seay play the theme in unison as Baker takes a brief, percolating solo. “In Grace” is a beautiful ballad that features Baker with brushes at the beginning. Tanksley paints her portrait on a spare, uncluttered canvas. Seay takes an understated but eloquent solo in the middle as Baker and Tanksley build a frame around him. Her playing has some nice moments of introspection and interior dialogue.
“Trickster” opens with a drum statement and as its title implies, the song is a mischievous burner of shifting time signatures. “Simple Heart”, a tender ballad, opens up with a wonderfully constructed statement by Tanksley, followed by a simultaneous piano/bass descent along the scales. On “Journey Without Distance” Tanksley plays swirling cascades of notes. After a furious, passionate turn – arguably her most stirring playing on the disc – Seay elbows his way to the fore and delivers a sprightly solo as Baker whispers behind him. The closer, “Never Defeated”, finds Tanksley weaving more of her rapid-fire keyboard embroidery to Seay and Baker’s ample support.
Tanksley is reminiscent of McCoy Tyner, in terms of style and execution. While her left hand holds the forts, the right goes off on studied but elegant flights. The meshing of the trio is almost telepathic at times. Clearly, the trio’s shared tenure with Harper’s group has had an effect on Tanksley’s composing; they know each other’s moves, so to speak, and that empathy has been factored into her songs. After this strong debut, as well as her recent performance as part of the Lost Jazz Shries series at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, we can only hope that Ms. Tanksley doesn’t wait as long next time to give us more great music.
By Terrell Holmes - All About JAzz [Newspaper]

"Tanksley Trio brings brilliant jazz to music center"

… This jazz concert was brilliant. Tanksley, at the piano, brought fluidity, exciting thrust, and rhythmic authority … the mix of calculated musicianship and bold improvisation was the binding force for this trio’s artistry.

Tanksley’s compositions were a delight. Full of verve, humor and poignancy, they covered the full gambit of what jazz is all about: “Trickster,” with surging rhythmic energy, and others, such as “Prayer,” projecting serene spirituality.

Tanksley’s colleague musicians, bassist Clarence Seay and Newman Taylor Baker on the drums, along with Tanksley, brought perfect ensemble to the music making. Seay made his instrument purr and snap and sing in Tanksley’s piece, “Prayer.” Baker pulled out expertly every aspect of the drummer’s art. The intensity of his playing projected one back to Biblical days; by turns, his playing was also lyric and tender. …
- John Paul Keeler, for Hudson Valley Newspapers - Register-Star

"... Really Good Pianists"

It strikes me that jazz pianists have an easier time keeping the hobgoblins of predictability and cliché at bay. Consider the advantages of seven octaves, 88 keys and a boggling variety of harmonic possibilities. Just playing the instrument without sheet music seems a composerly act. And maybe we¹re just living through an age of really good jazz pianists.

That, anyway, was my impression at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center¹s "Lost Jazz Shrines" piano concert on May 30, a triple bill of Bertha Hope, Joanne Brackeen and Francesca Tanksley. None of the three pianists is much known outside the jazz hard-core, and according to the homage theme of the concert, all were bending their individual styles to pay tribute to the two-fisted swing of keyboard matriarch Mary Lou Williams. And yet, what came through was the indelibility of the pianistic fingerprint: Ms. Brackeen¹s crisp, springy attack and classically precise time sense; Ms. Hope¹s muscular and bluesy touch; Ms. Tanksley¹s brooding romanticism. Jazz has always risen or fallen on the strength of its individual instrumental voices. At the Tribeca Center, you could feel the saving grace of personality.

Hope to Brackeen to Tanksley was one satisfying tour of the piano-jazz landscape.

Joseph Hooper - The New York Observer


Review Courtesy

Francesca Tanksley | DreamCaller

Pianist Francesca Tanksley has long captured the respect of musicians and audiences not only in the United States, but also worldwide, as an integral member for many years of the dynamic quintet of saxophonist Billy Harper.
Her career has expanded to include more of her own trio work, with stirring live appearances as well as this CD debut as a leader, Journey (Dreamcaller 7168). It features her arresting original compositions, accompanied by superb bassist Clarence Seay and propulsive drummer Newman Baker, both also in the Harper band. Throughout the recording, one also appreciates the way her sensitive, well modulated comping behind these two players, enhances without detracting from the soloist.
Tanksley’s playing, as well as writing, has an engaging appeal based on an impressive matching of warm and cool. Her consistently swinging attack and warm, bright touch that is firm, but always melodic, effectively balances her moving intensity, with a well-structured and often contemplative approach. It reflects traces of her acknowledged influences - McCoy Tyner, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans; but has an individualism that is also demonstrated in the uplifting thrust of her various compositions. While each is unique in melody, tempo and chord structure, they share a common effervescent feel, with very appropriate titles, such as “Into The Light”, “In Grace”, “Earnestly, Tenderly”, “Never Defeated” and the beautiful “Prayer”, inspirationally sung by guest vocalist, Judy Bady.
Above all else, the CD reflects a strikingly mature artist who has successfully integrated a spiritually exhilarating approach to music with an intelligent, well crafted command of her instrument, in conjunction with the trio as a whole.
~ Tom Pierce
- All About Jazz


With the Francesca Tanksley Trio:

Journey – 2002, DreamCaller, DC7168

With the Billy Harper Quintet:

Soul Of An Angel – 2000, Metropolitan, MR1120
If Our Hearts Could Only See – 1997, DIW, 931
Somalia – 1994, Omagatoki, SC-7107
Live On Tour In The Far East, Volumes I, II, and III – 1992, Steeplechase, SCCD31311, 1993 SCCD 31321
Destiny Is Yours – 1990, Steeplechase, SCCD 31260

With the Erica Lindsay Quartet:

Dreamer – 1989, Candid, CCD 79040
Yes – 2006, ASR Records, Kansas City

With the Jeff “Siege” Siegel Quartet:

Magical Spaces – 2005, CAP 989

With the Blue Jade Trio:

Night Songs – 1995, Alpha, ALCB 3070



Francesca Tanksley

Francesca Tanksley surprises. The internationally-acclaimed jazz pianist and composer, described as “a vivid presence” by Nat Hentoff, breaks through traditional expectations with the power of her musical vision. Acknowledged as a fine soloist, composer, and accompanist with such notable groups as the Billy Harper Quintet, the Erica Lindsay Quintet, Howard Johnson’s HoJo5, and the Jeff “Siege” Siegel Quartet, she has performed throughout Europe, East and Southeast Asia, Scandinavia and South America as well as in the United States, and appears on numerous CD releases of these groups. Her compositional talent is featured on two Billy Harper Quintet CDs, as well as on her own recently released CD on the DreamCaller Productions label, entitled, Journey.

Other leading musicians with whom Francesca Tanksley has performed include David Newman, Laurel Massé of Manhattan Transfer, Cecil Payne, Nick Brignola, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Cobb, Pat LaBarbera, Sheila Jordan, Jay Clayton, Dianne Reeves, Clifford Jordan, Charles Davis, Pete Yellin, and tap-dancers Katherine Kramer and Brenda Buffalino. She has been a featured artist on Marian McPartland's widely acclaimed National Public Radio series, Piano Jazz, and appears in the documentary, Women In Jazz by Burrill Crohn. Ms. Tanksley is noted in the books, American Women In Jazz, by Sally Plaxin, and in Madam Jazz, by Leslie Gourse.

In addition to being an acclaimed accompanist and composer, Ms. Tanksley also leads the Francesca Tanksley Trio, and in 2002 produced her debut CD, entitled Journey, which features her original compositions and includes colleagues from the Billy Harper Quintet, drummer Newman Taylor Baker, bassist Clarence Seay, as well as guest vocalist Judy Bady. In 2003, St. Gregory’s Church of Woodstock, New York, commissioned her to compose Goddess of the Sea. In 2004, her composition, “Trickster,” was featured as the central musical piece in Katherine Kramer’s tap and modern dance performance, Choices, which was performed at Florida International University. In November of 2005, the Francesca Tanksley Trio, featuring legendary jazz bassist Reggie Workman, completed a successful tour of Poland, performing at venues such as the Kalisz International Piano Jazz Festival, as well as the jazz club Blue Note in the city of Poznan.

Francesca Tanksley was born in Italy as a U.S. citizen and grew up in Munich, Germany. She began studying piano at the age of seven, and at sixteen she attended Berklee College of Music in Boston to study jazz piano and composition. Following her studies at Berklee she returned to Munich and began her professional career performing with various European jazz groups. She then moved to New York City and joined Melba Liston's group, Melba Liston & Co., appearing at major jazz clubs and festivals in the U.S., including the Kool Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall with Dizzy Gillespie. Soon thereafter she became an integral member of the Billy Harper Quintet, as well as the Erica Lindsay Quintet, both of which she is still a member, as well as Howard Johnson’s HoJo5, and the Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel Quartet.

Ms. Tanksley holds a Master's Degree in Music from Queens College, and is the recipient of the Graduating Master's Award, the Eubie and Marion Blake Foundation Award, and the ASCAP Louis Armstrong Composers’ Scholarship Award. She has conducted jazz workshops at numerous colleges, including the University of Southern California at Santa Cruz, Hampton University, Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute, Arizona State University, and Bard College. Ms. Tanksley serves as faculty at New School University’s Jazz Program in New York City, and at Berklee College of Music in Boston.


Reggie Workman

Internationally acclaimed bassist, composer, arranger, record/concert producer, and educator, Reggie Workman has contributed a wealth of material to the Jazz community. His playing styles range from Bop to Post Bop to Funk and Futuristic Music. He is best known for his unique and powerful improvisational music. Reggie was born in Philadelphia. It was during his high school days that Reggie developed a love for music and consequently chose the double bass as his means of expression. By 1958 Reggie had secured his first record date with Gigi Gryce as a supporting artist. Between 1959 and 1969 he toured and recorded a large number of albums with such jazz giants as Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan, Thelonious Monk, Booker Little, Elvin Jones, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and many more.

Although some of Reggie’s best-known recordings include works done in collaboration with John Coltrane, he had become a well-established figure in the jazz world by the early 1970’s. Touring and recording with innovative musicians such as Mal Waldron, Max Roach, David Murray, Butch Morris, Oliver Lake, Chico Freeman, Abdull