As the opening line from that late '50s-early '60s police TV show stated "There are eight million stories in the Naked City." The same could be said about how people uncover their dreams of becoming musicians. Sometimes it comes via a dramatic epiphany, e.g. seeing a memorable performer or hearing a monumental recording, while for others it may be due to immersion in music itself, perhaps through musician parents. Now and then, a happenstance so quirky, so out of the blue, occurs that it's as if the spheres just aligned to make it so. Such is Tom Carleno's story.
The setting: a family get-together. Young Tom is watching his cousin, Paul Musso, pulling off an impressive José Feliciano impression (sunglasses and all) and playing the guitar. That was all it took. Tom decided there and then that he wanted to become an entertainer and playing guitar would be his vehicle to reach that goal. That he didn't know how to play the instrument served as no deterrent. He persuaded his cousin to teach him to play guitar (a buck a lesson on Friday nights after school).
Tom spent his teen years learning guitar, joining bands (many of which never made it past the rehearsal stage), four of which reached semi-solid status–two rock bands and two jazz/rock ensembles. For a job, he worked alongside his father in the family's wholesale drapery fabric shop, although he couldn't get his dreams of entertaining people with music out of his head. "I could never see myself having a regular 9 to 5 type of job. There was nothing that interested me enough to want to make a living doing it as much as music did. Early on…I didn't know how to go about making a living as a musician, so I just spent time learning my instrument and hoped I would figure that part out later."
A huge turning point occurred when he began studying guitar and composition with Steve Mesplé, a core member of the ground-breaking '80s and '90s ensemble, Wind Machine. For eight years he studied with Mesplé, learning about alternate tunings and developing his own. "I had dabbled a bit with fingerstyle guitar before, but Steve really taught me the proper technique…I found I could write songs easily using different tunings. They sparked my creative side."
Toward the end of his time with Mesplé, Carleno came to the realization that rather than continuing to either find a band or start one (which had proved futile up to that point), he instead went looking for a single accompanist who fit into his vision of what he wanted to play. Around this time (the late '80s), he met violinist Josie Quick and discovered that both she and her instrument might be a great fit. "I had been playing and writing acoustic music in open tunings for a couple of years and it occurred to me that a violin would sound great with acoustic guitar." The two developed a solid chemistry together, leading to the formation of their band, Perpetual Motion, an acoustic jazz ensemble. Tom and Josie also became best friends and, in 1992, got married. The couple and the band have been making music for over 20 years.
While Carleno had wanted to record a solo guitar album for years, it wasn't until 2008 that it became something of importance. He had been writing solo music for quite a while and it was now time to record it. The resultant album is titled Perfect Imperfection, the origins of which came about partly through wife Josie's observation that "…nothing is perfect." Carleno began mulling that idea over in his head, coming to the realization "That is what makes life so perfect–that everything is imperfect…perfection to one person is not the same as to another, so nothing can be perfect if everyone is different."
With a long history of performing live throughout Colorado (25+ years) Denver residents Tom and Josie are fully occupied with their assorted musical careers. The couple keeps busy with Perpetual Motion, while Josie also plays in another group (Coyote Poets of the Universe). Tom can sometimes be found performing with another guitarist, each one doing a solo set as well as duets. In addition, both Tom and Josie add plenty of session work to their already busy schedules. Tom views all the assorted gigs the couple has as being practical (the extra money is helpful in these tough times) as well as from a musical standpoint. "…on the artistic side, I believe it helps us grow as musicians."
Has Tom finally achieved fame? Maybe he hasn't rocked out in front of sold-out stadiums, but the former one-dollar-a- lesson aspiring guitarist has had a long, successful professional music career in and has won acclaim with several songwriting awards. Tom's music can also be heard on cable TV channels Animal Planet and The Learning Channel. All in all, none too shabby for someone who might have ended up advising you on drapery fabrics instead!
Awards: Tom won Best Instrumental in the 2009 SongDoor International Songwriting Competition for his song “Child’s Play”. In the 2007 Unisong International Songwriting Contest he received Honorable Mention in the Jazz category of for his song “Por Causa de Você”.
Tom's music has been heard on the TV shows "Too Cute" on Animal Planet and "Four Weddings" on TLC.