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Vol. 10, No. 2
January 10 - 16, 2002 
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Guitarist Tom Lagana’s Big Night at Rams Head
by Jeremy Breningstall

Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work on Michael Jackson’s Beat It, brought Tom Lagana to the guitar. The first song he learned to play was AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” But on a Friday night 18 years later, the 32-year-old jazz stylist played music from a different vein.

Over 200 people filled a sold-out Rams Head Tavern to hear Lagana and his backing band play the 11 tracks from his all-original CD, Patuxent, released Dec. 15.

The band started with the first slow strains of the album’s title track. Sax player Chris Bacas bit his lip as he waited to get in on the action. He didn’t have to wait long to be wailing away with loud, trumpet-like pounds.

Max Murray plucked at the bass; Mike Noonan shifted between the marimba and piano, spinning his sticks like they were chopsticks; Todd Harrison did the drums and percussion. In their midst Lagana bounced nimbly through a variety of guitars, including electric. His work on the latter, though full of the shifty chord changes and loose tempo jazz is known for, brought back Lagana’s early rock influences, if only to the slightest degree.

Recorded over the last 13 months, Patuxent mingles sounds and influences ranging from traditional jazz to Afro-Cuban and folk styles.

Playing in front of “all of his closest fans,” Lagana was nervous but friendly, filling in the spaces between songs with banter and jokes like “Mom, you’re supposed to clap for that one.”

Rams Head Onstage is Chesapeake Country’s premier stage, a place you typically go to hear national and regional acts, not local ones. Local musicians consider themselves lucky to open for the big boys at Rams Head Onstage.

“I feel very blessed to be one of the few local acts they have allowed to headline Onstage,” said Lagana, who worked his way to the big time from Rams Head’s outlying location in Savage.

Concert-goers had varied reasons for coming out to hear the album on its live debut night. “My drum teacher told me to come out,” said Cam Aiken, a mechanic from Silver Spring.

Most had longer ties to Lagana.

Linda Giuffre of Davidsonville, for example, recalled hearing Lagana when he was a 16-year-old dating her daughter and playing guitar in her living room. She said it came as no surprise that Lagana made a career of the guitar, though she wonders about a music form with no words.

John DeHan, an engineer from Gambrills, came similarly suspicious of jazz only to be won over by the show’s first set.

“They have a good mix in their music,” DeHan said. “He’s confident and pretty stylish in his technique.”

“It was awesome,” said Jimi HaHa of Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, there to help with the digital recording of the evening.

Returning for the second set, Lagana opened with “North End,” a slow contemplative number with a lullaby-like quality, which Lagana said drew on memories of his days in Boston studying at the Berklee School of Music.

After going through some harder tempo numbers such as “Mantris” (named through a typo) and a fair bit of improv between the band members, Lagana finished the evening with “Ginga,” the encore, dedicating it to Giuffre.

“We put this last song in for her so she can’t tell me anymore we don’t have any words,” Lagana joked before going into the African-influenced upbeat chant song. “Only the words aren’t in English.”

“Ginga” is named for the Portuguese word for groove, and not a similar word in Spanish with far different connotations, Lagana said in an interview after the show.

Lagana grew up in Davidsonville, not far from the Patuxent River, where he used to fish as a child and which lent its name to this album. After a year at Anne Arundel Community College, in 1988 he went to Berklee, which he credits with teaching him about the workings of music.

After a stint at Walt Disney World — a “drag,” pronounced Lagana, aside from the musicians who visited as guest performers — Lagana returned to Maryland, where he has been making his living as a full-time musician since 1993.

Back in the Annapolis area, Lagana met jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd, who he credits with “getting the ball rolling for me in this town.” Byrd told him, “If you are afforded the luxury of being a full-time musician, you owe it to your audience to get better every day.”

Patuxent, funded by Lagana, was recorded at Gizmo Recording Studios in Silver Spring.

Of his opening night sell-out, Lagana said, “I never expected it. That was fabulous. The Rams Head has asked us back to headline another show in about six months, so we’re gonna do it all over again.”

The lingering sweetness of a night of success has whetted the young musician’s appetite. “I think the one thing this opening has given me is more drive to succeed, and more willingness to sacrifice other things for my career,” Lagana says. “I have been given a small taste of it, and my mouth is watering for more.”


Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly