Tommi Zender is a multi-instrumentalist who hails from Evanston IL, working and playing regularly in Chicago IL. Zender wears many musical hats: Singer/Songwriter, Guitarist, Drummer/Percussionist, Producer/Arranger, Ambient Soundscape Improviser, Teacher/Coach, Bassist, Collaborator, Accompanist, Studio Gun-for-hire, Musical Director, Transcriber, and of course music fan. He currently teaches adult classes at Old Town School of Folk Music, and he has coached music privately in Evanston IL since 1996.
Zender started out on this career path at an early age, splitting his youth between Chicago, Phoenix, & Los Angeles. He took his first guitar lesson at the Old Town School of Folk Music. He attended Columbia College (’93) for Music Performance, ran an independent music store from 1994-2000, and started his own private teaching practice in 2001 (guitar and drums). His first record of original music was released under the moniker Trinkets of Joy “Just Like Mom Used to Make” (1999) on the local Hear Diagonally label (they also released albums by Justin Roberts, the group Frisbie, & more). The album was self-produced, recorded and largely performed by Zender onto a Sony 4-track mini-disc machine at the fabled Sherman Ranch (Larry Brown, Chris Greene, & Jonah Kraut contributed drums, sax & cello respectively). There are a very limited amount left available direct from the artist; it is not available digitally and no re-pressing is planned.
Zender self-released “Will Work For Harmony” (2005) recorded with Jeff Oliver engineering at Riverbend Studio in Chicago. Tommi wrote, produced, arranged, & played all the instruments excepting upright bass on “The Ambiguity of Aloha” (Eddie Carlson played that!). Tommi invited friends to sing the backing vocals (Liam Davis, Shelley Miller, Jeff Vezain, Joy Truskowski). The singles “Something To Hide” and “Cinnamon Apple Cider” garnered a modicum of positive critical acclaim.
Zender self-released “Words Get in The Way” (2009). It’s an album of instrumental ambient guitar soundscapes that were recorded in a log-cabin. The music is used for relaxation, meditation, massage therapy, yoga, and more. It is only available direct from the artist and there is no bar code on the artwork, some of which is pictured below.(sorry, no CD Baby, iTunes, Rhapsody, Pandora, Spotify, Napster!)
Zender collaborated with Shelley Miller producing and co-arranging “Tear Me Down” (2001) and “Morning Somewhere” (2006). He played drums and various stringed instruments for Justin Roberts and appeared on his children’s records “Not Naptime” (2002) and “Way Out” (2004). He also played percussion/drums for Ralph’s World concerts in Chicago and around the US between 2002-2005.
Zender has been an accompanist for the likes of Phil Angotti, Congress of Starlings (Andrea Bunch & Aerin Tedesco), Steve Dawson (Dolly Varden), Dag Juhlin (Poi Dog Pondering, Expo ’76), legendary pop-rockers Green, The Bon Mots, Peter Mulvey, Lisa DeRosia & Lush Budgett, Nora O’Connor (Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, Andrew Bird) Ellen Rosner, Happy Chichester (Afghan Whigs, Royal Crescent Mob, RJD2, Brad), Al Day, Ryan Auffenberg, Jon Brion (yes that guy, at The Hideout) Jason Falkner (yes that guy too, once upon a time at NU’s student union) and many more… in fact it’s now to the point this is simply shameless name dropping. Tz has taken part in many of Tom Dunning’s legendary Hoot Night’s at Schuba’s Tavern. It’s not out of character for Tommi to go up on stage unrehearsed with people he barely knows to accompany them on various instruments.
Zender has contributed tracks to tribute albums honoring Kate Bush, Michael Penn, Jellyfish, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, and Squeeze, and played concert tributes honoring John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, The Smiths, The Byrds, Bee Gees, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Donovan, and more.
He continues to perform regularly as a solo artist, in collaboration at Old Town School of Folk Music-related events, and also with his own group featuring Alton Smith on keyboards, Chris Siebold on guitars, John Abbey on bass, and Jim Barclay on drums.