Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Duo
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Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Duo

New York, New York, United States | INDIE | AFM

New York, New York, United States | INDIE | AFM
Band Jazz Acoustic


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"All About Jazz What's Going On?"

CD Review:

By Michael P. Gladstone

The New York-based team of guitarist Tom Dempsey and bassist Tim Ferguson has been playing as a duo over the course of the past twenty years. It is, indeed, a shame that knowledge of the quality of this music appears to be a state secret.

Their collaborative What's Going On? provides not only a keen display of their playing ability, but quite a diverting set list. The pair opens with Hank Jones' “Interface,” then slide into Marvin Gaye's 1970s R&B hit “What's Going On?”--a tune meaningful to both musicians as an ecological warning. The traditional spiritual, “Deep River,” follows and, in turn, leads into Billy Strayhorn's “Isfahan.”

This cleverly interleaved mix of tunes is typical of an album that presents standards, jazz tunes and a few originals. There is a huge amount of music being presented and when Ferguson takes a bass solo, as he does on most of these compositions, he gets a great big woody sound from his instrument. Dempsey's role as principal melodist clearly identifies his ability to play lyrically in any context. As a contrast, Ferguson plays the melody on Hoagy Charmichael's classic “Stardust,” while Dempsey comps, Django-style. On Mal Waldron's closing “Soul Eyes,” Ferguson delivers a beautiful arco solo.

When Dempsey and Ferguson play in unison, as on the bassist's “Julie's Tabouleh,” it's yet another musical treat from this fine album.

Track Listing: Interface; What's Going On; Deep River; Isfahan; Nascimento; Tandem; First Song (For Ruth); As Spring Begins; Julie's Tabouleh; Stardust; Three And One; Soul Eyes.

Personnel: Tom Dempsey: guitar: Tim Ferguson: bass.
- All About Jazz

"The Skanner What's Going On?"

CD Review: * * * * *

Guitarist Tom Dempsey and bassist Tim Ferguson have released this superb duo recording of fine originals plus tunes written by Thad Jones, Marvin Gaye, Hoagy Carmichael, Mal Waldron and others.

It’s extremely difficult to pick a favorite tune when such material as “Isfahan,” “Stardust,” “What’s Going On,” and “Soul Eyes” are included.

Even the originals like Dempsey’s “As Spring Begins” and Ferguson’s “Julie’s Tabouleh” are unique compositions performed here in a lush and melodic manner.

Dick Bogle hosts a weekly jazz radio show from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays on KMHD 89.1 FM. He can be reached for comment at
- The Skanner

"Scott Yanow-Perspectives"

AMG REVIEW: On this set, co-led by guitarist Tom Dempsey and bassist Tim Ferguson, and also featuring altoist David Bixler and drummer Jeff Brillinger, original hard bop tunes are emphasized on Perspectives. The only song not from Dempsey or Ferguson is Duke Pearson's "Minor League." The music is inventive, straight-ahead (but not predictable) and swinging, with a few subtle surprises included. The musicians, based in New York, are not famous but deserve recognition since they are talented improvisers. This small-level set shows how creative the modern mainstream of jazz remains in the early 21st century. — Scott Yanow

- All Music Guide

"Jazz Weekly-What's Going On?"

CD Review:

Attention guitarists, this is how a recording should be put together. Spacious, lyrical, uncomplicated, yet filled with warm and embracing interplay. NYC based Tom Dempsey and bassist Tim Ferguson have been doing this kind of thing for almost twenty years; their mutual knowledge of music and each other after two decades is palpably evident on this fine release of (mostly) standards. Beautiful tunes like “Soul Eyes” and “Deep River” are given silhouette-like ambience. Sophisticated bop pieces like Hank Jones’ “Interface” and brother Thad’s “Three and One” are benefited by their jovial jousting. Selecting Marvin Gaye’s pop hit as a vehicle for improvisation was a selection of genius. Why do discs like this seem so easy, yet no one dares put them out? Look up this winner.

- George Harris

"Live performance Review"

Dempsey and Ferguson Cornelia Street Café

Written by Cassie Newman
Less is more, a popular catchphrase, is certainly justified by Tom Dempsey and Tim Ferguson, the duo who played Sunday night downstairs at the Cornelia Street Café. With Dempsey on guitar and Ferguson on bass, the musicians face the challenge of creating a full, multi-faceted musical performance with only two string instruments.

Although the music would lend itself very well to the addition of a horn, a piano or some drums, Dempsey and Ferguson have such a connection with each other, and such a handle on their instruments, that any additional musical parts were not missed. In fact, on previous occasions and recordings, they have included such instruments with great success, but more isn’t necessarily better, it’s just different. Perhaps that is the crux of the issue, more instruments, meaning a trio or a quartet, is really just more of the same. After all, most jazz bands consist of some combination of familiar instruments; it is much less common to see just a guitar and a bass. That is the first reason that Dempsey and Ferguson stand out as jazz musicians.

The next reason, and perhaps the more important one, is the simplicity and humanity with which they play their respective instruments. It may have been partly influenced by the small, personal space at the Cornelia Street Café, but their performance had an intimacy to it that was absolutely riveting. Everyone’s attention was locked on the musicians, and there seemed to be a calculated effort on all parts to make as little excess noise as possible.

In fact, it might be said that the only conversation happening within the quiet space was between the guitar and the bass. Dempsey and Ferguson instill so much expression into their musical parts that the instruments seem to take on a life and voice of their own. At times, there is a very subtle call and response between the two, almost as if they are finishing each other’s sentences. At other times, they play together, effortlessly switching roles as the leader with the melody line and as the backup, supplying the harmony and the rhythm. The importance of specificity becomes clear as the duo almost mimics a rhythm line from the drums or a melody line from a piano by changing the way they use their strings. For example, in a song by Hank Jones titled “Interface”, the way Dempsey picked rapidly at the strings on the guitar sounded more like an arpeggio on the piano than the strumming of a guitar.

It is in the way his fingers (or his guitar pick, in most cases) pick at the strings that Dempsey communicates so much expression. In the song “Nascimento” by Barry Harris, Dempsey had a touch so gentle, it’s a wonder he elicited any sound from his guitar. The song itself has the quality of a lullaby, and the tenderness with which Dempsey and Ferguson played only enhanced its appeal, the music becoming sweetly hypnotic.

Ferguson’s expression comes from his propensity to bend into blue notes on the bass, sustaining them so that it sounds like a cry. As is often the case, the bass played the backup to the guitar for most of the set, repeating the same progressions underneath, and keeping tempo for, the melodic guitar line. But Ferguson still gave the bass a run for its money on multiple occasions, particularly in the jazz standard, “Stardust”by Hoagy Carmichael, when he took the improvisational liberties typically delegated to the guitar or the piano. This was also the case for the duo’s title song “What’s Going On”, the soulful classic by Marvin Gaye. The guitar played the melody, recalling Gaye’s own silky vocals, and the bass improvised around it.

The fact that Dempsey and Ferguson have made that song the title of their new album, and a signature piece in their repertoire, is further proof of the expressive and sensitive nature of the duo’s music. To convey the incredible message of Gaye’s song without using words requires a great deal of expression, and Dempsey and Ferguson have achieved this, and so much more.
- Cassie Newman


What's Going On - Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Duo
Perspectives - Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Quartet



Guitarist Tom Dempsey and bassist Tim Ferguson are both well established New York musicians whose extensive resumes include work with some of the biggest names in jazz. Since meeting in 1988, they have worked together on a variety of projects, touring the US and Europe in duo and trio formats and have collaborated on various recordings including Their latest release highly acclaimed duo recording "What's Going On?" on City Tone records (2008), “Perspectives” by the Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Quartet on Imaginary Records, and Dempsey’s 1998 CD “Blues in the Slope” on Igmod Records.

Tom Dempsey’s reputation in the New York jazz scene for excellence, sophistication and artistry has, and continues to receive widespread acclaim. In recent years Tom has performed and/or recorded with a virtual "Who’s Who" of world renowned jazz musicians including: Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Tal Farlow, Buddy Montgomery, George Coleman, Kenny Barron, Roy Haynes, Jack McDuff, Gerald Wilson, Mel Torme, Bobby McFerrin, and Dave Brubeck. In June of 2003 Dempsey completed a world tour with tap dancing virtuoso Savion Glover. He has made numerous appearances on New York radio and television including performances on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show”, the HBO series Sex and the City, and WQXR radio. Dempsey has also performed for many Broadway shows including "Bring In ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk", and “Patti Lupone on Broadway.” Jazz journalist and author Scott Yanow describes Dempsey’s playing as “inventive, straight ahead and swinging. Dempsey shows how creative the modern mainstream of jazz remains in the 21st century.”

A versatile guitarist, Dempsey brings many of these different experiences to this group and his compositions. "I feel as though music and musicians are too easily compartmentalized and put into boxes. I enjoy a whole spectrum of music and feel that a musician’s true artistic expressions are greatly influenced by a host of musical sources. The music I record usually is labeled jazz because of the amount of improvisation that is present. However, I do draw on a number of styles and experiences to influence my musical contributions."

Ferguson has also performed with a wide variety of well known jazz musicians including Don Friedman, Stefon Harris, Vanessa Rubin, Mel Lewis, Cecil Bridgewater, John Abercrombie, and Valery Ponomarev He has toured extensively throughout the US and Europe for over ten years and played with a variety of groups ranging from duos to large ensembles including the famed "Vanguard Jazz Orchestra". Ferguson has been an Imaginary Records recording artist for many years making numerous recordings for the label with pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and drummer Jeff "Siege" Siegel in the cooperatively led piano trio Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson. He also produced and played on the recording “My Foolish Heart” from the Don Friedman Quartet on Steeplechase records. Ferguson brings a wealth of varied experiences to all of his performances. Bass World magazine calls him a “fine bassist with a warm and woody tone whose solos are tasteful, balanced and never overplayed”

In talking about the music, Ferguson explains that "the music really falls between categories. It is not bebop, latin, hard bop or avant-garde, but it’s informed by all of those styles and more. I call it modern classic jazz. We aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel, we’re simply trying to make a contribution to the music through our own individual voices."

Dempsey and Ferguson offer a wide variety of sounds and textures from burning straight ahead playing to sensitive ballads and stunning improvisation. With their individual points of view coming together, the group offers the excitement and joy of fresh music and constant musical surprise.