Although junior bass major Ross Garlow studies jazz music in class, he is showing his guns to the folk world.
A transfer student from the University of the Arts, Garlow has frequented Philadelphia music venues including Raven Lounge and North Star Bar as a singer-songwriter. A multi instrumentalist, he started learning how to play guitar at the age of five. Since then, he’s learned how to play the guitar, bass, piano, trumpet and mandolin. His heavily jazz-influenced musical background created roots for him in the world of improv musicianship – what he prefers to call a “jam band.”
So, how does a guy go from writing bass lines to folk songs? In Garlow’s case, it all started with an assignment from a guitar teacher to go home and write a song using a technique he had learned in his lesson. Garlow returned to class with a song called, “Mama.” A handful of videos of Garlow performing the song are available on YouTube.
Garlow may have gotten his start in songwriting by a nudge from his teacher, but he took the initiative on his own when it came to planning his tour last summer.
Acting as his own manager, Garlow traveled the country for two-and-a-half weeks, making stops in Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Virginia – alone in his Jeep. Garlow stayed with friends when he could, but in his own words, “boondocked it” on free campgrounds when that was not an option.
Although Garlow is enjoying himself in his singer-songwriter endeavors, he seems to be staying true to his jazz roots, and hopes to one day teach bass at the college level.
The Temple News: Are your parents musically inclined?
Ross Garlow: My dad’s a big consumer. He’s been to more than 200 Grateful Dead shows, and just about anyone else you can think of. He’s the only Dead Head in the world that has a stack of CD’s and you will find classical music in there, you will find jazz in there, you will find blues in there, you will find surfer music in there, you will find European folk music in there. He is one of the few Dead Heads that can talk about anything. And my mom is from New Orleans. Her father was a jazz musician in New Orleans. And I look just like him, so I think I got a lot of it from him, too.
TTN: Have you always been a solo artist, or have you been in other bands before?
RG: I was in a whole bunch of bands growing up as a kid. In junior high, I started two bands. I was in a mix of a bad crowd and a good crowd. In the bad crowd, I was playing punk rock and heavy metal and hardcore music. In the good crowd, I was playing jazz and jam band music and rock music and subtler stuff like that. But the best band I was ever in was with a kid who actually goes to Temple, Bobby Jofred. We were in a band together called the Abington Limits.
TTN: Do the things you learn about jazz music at Temple ever overlap with your folk music?
RG: Sure, I take things that I learn in my jazz curriculum and take them to playing the guitar. I definitely take a lot from what I learn in the jazz world, especially the way I voice chords. I play a lot of chords that jazz musicians would play, not folk musicians, but I’m still playing folk music. A guy I got really into in high school was Keller Williams. He plays [what is] technically jam band music, but he doesn’t use chords your average folk guitar player uses. Going the next step further, that’s pretty important. And that’s what jazz is all about, going the next step further.
TTN: There’s a YouTube video of you covering “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” What are some of your other favorite songs to cover?
RG: I like playing some things that people don’t see coming, something that comes from left field. Something like, “Insane in the Membrane” by Cypress Hill or “Just a Friend” by Biz Markie – I’ve got some alternate verses for that. And right after I play a song like that, like neo hip-hop, I’ll come in a play like a really dirty south bluegrass song.
TTN: Do you have any hidden talents?
RG: If it wasn’t going to be music, it would be cooking. I want to own a restaurant someday. I’m a super good cook. That is my passion besides music. I could be a guy on like a weird TV show eating the weirdest stuff that most people won’t eat and I’d enjoy every second of it. And if it wasn’t food, math. I’m really good at math. I’m a renaissance man. I snowboard, and I’m a really good fly fisherman. If I wanted to, I could move out of the city and back to the mountains and be a fly fisherman.
Jenelle Janci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.