Tyshawn Sorey is a once-in-a-generation talent in the mode of the great trombonist and composer George Lewis, with whom he once studied. The Newark, New Jersey native was born in 1980, and from the start he was a formidable instrumentalist. Although he’s known best as a drummer of galvanic power and range, he’s also a magnificent trombonist and pianist. Sorey seems driven by new challenges, perpetually expanding his scope as a composer and performer.
He first attracted notice as an improviser, bringing uncanny clarity, rhythmic sophistication, and drive to ensembles led by bassist Mario Pavone, violinist Billy Bang, and trombonist Michael Dessen, but it’s with collectives such as Fieldwork (with pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Steve Lehman) and Paradoxical Frog (with guitarist Mary Halvorson and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock), to say nothing of a kaleidoscopic array of his own ensembles, where his astonishing talents became clear. Sorey enjoys confounding listeners. His marvelous trio with pianist Cory Smythe and bassist Chris Tordini features his compositions, but his own instrumental contributions are meticulously measured, serving the ensemble rather than his own ego, while he formed a newer trio with pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Matt Brewer tackling standards to address those who reduce his work to avant-garde experiments. Some of his albums are rooted in free jazz and post-bop, but others delve into contemporary music.
As a composer Sorey’s music has been commissioned and/or performed by a growing number of artists including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Alarm Will Sound, JACK Quartet, Claire Chase, and International Contemporary Ensemble with vocalist Julia Bullock, which together performed his ‘Perle Noire: Meditations for Josephine,’ a song cycle about Josephine Baker. After taking Anthony Braxton’s chair as professor at Wesleyan University in 2017—the same year was named a MacArthur Fellow—he was hired as a composition professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 2020.