Jacob Varmus left his hometown, San Francisco, in 1991 to go to the University of Iowa. Like many before him, he had high hopes of coming of age as a poet while cruising the vast American heartland. He saw language and experience as the tools to probe the deepest layers of the human psyche. In his first year he was admitted to the undergraduate writers' workshop where he studied with Jorie Graham. As he produced poems unremittingly and charted the labyrinthine maze of academic life as an English major, he also played trumpet devotedly, getting a good classical foundation with David Greenhoe. Although not set on a career in music he was nonetheless engrossed in the music of the great jazz trumpeters, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, to name a few. Chet Baker and Woody Shaw were also early favorites and of special import to his trumpet sound then and now.


In the 1990s, Iowa City had more than a few talented jazz musicians to fuel a growing public interest in the music kindled by its new annual Summer jazz festival. As a result Jacob had a wide array of people to play with and listen to music with, and an especially rich corn state trumpet tradition that had left its mark, from Bix Beiderbecke to Art Farmer, Ed Sarath, Paul Smoker and Ryan Kisor. Being in a small town had its advantages as word quickly spread about the precocious new trumpeter. Exciting professional opportunities, like playing in the band of local guitar guru Steve Grismore, came his way. Playing gigs with older, more experienced musicians and spurred by a performance by trumpeter Tom Harrell at The Jazz Showcase in Chicago, Jacob was inspired to concentrate more fully on making music and honing his trumpet sound. Grismore, who was also the head of the jazz department at the University, thought Jacob would benefit from extensive study with the aforementioned Paul Smoker, an Iowa alum who'd made a name for himself in New York playing an adventurous style of trumpet that utilized early jazz effects like shakes, growls, and glisses mixed with devices like tone rows, pedal tones and extremely wide intervallic leaps, more commonly found in twentieth century concert music. After a week at Smoker's home outside of Rochester, New York, Jacob headed back to Iowa with an even stronger passion and determination to follow his own path. A fellow student urged Jacob to enter the International Trumpet Guild's jazz competition, which he did, taking first place.


A few months later, Jacob decided to come to New York to finish his degree in The New School For Social Research's jazz program. At The New School he had the good fortune to study under many distinguished jazz musicians; especially influential and involved in his progress were Billy Harper, Arnie Lawrence, Phil Markowitz, Jimmy Owens, and George Garzone. In his final semester Jacob wrote an extended piece commissioned by The Jazz Composers' Collective for jazz quintet and string quartet that would feature Ted Nash on saxophone and Frank Kimbrough on piano.

Since graduating in 1998 Jacob has written music for theater troupes like the Yankee Repertory Theater; performed with symphony orchestras at venues such as Carnegie Hall; and participated as sideman in recording projects from pop, bop, free jazz, big band, to modern classical. His music reflects an urge to reconcile these influences and to construct a balance between the vertiginous frenzied feeling of life as most of us know it on the one hand, with the quiet, sublime often unseen aspects at our cores on the other.

Jacob currently lives in Queens where he organized a monthly workshop (from 2000 to 2006) for fellow composers and improvisers called Workshop 39; directs the Astoria Music Society's jazz concert series; and continues to add to his already thick catalogue of original compositions, arrangements, and songs.

In 2005, he premiered his suite"Queensboro Plaza" at Queens Theatre on the Park fulfilling a commission from Queens Council on the Arts, played on the critically acclaimed self-titled debut of the chamber trio New American Wing, and studied on scholarship at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada. In 2006, he recorded his second album, "Terminal Stillness", including a suite of the same name. From 2006 to 2007 he led weekly shows at Time Cafe and Cup as well as performing a weekly cabaret show at Cinema Paradiso with singer-actress Simona Rodano. In 2008, Varmus received a grant from the New York Department of Cultural Affairs to present concerts of his original music across libraries in Queens. The same year he co-produced and scored music to a dramatic presentation of a three-part lecture on genes, evolution and cancer by his biologist father Harold Varmus. Genes and Jazz: The Music of Cell Biology, a 90-minute piece for narrator, film and jazz quintet, premiered in the Guggenheim Museum's Works and Process Series in November 2008. Subsequent performances took place at Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian, Boston Museum of Science, and Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington D.C.

The newly released Terminal Stillness is available for digital download at: i-tunes

and physical CD (with complete artwork) and/or digital download at: cdbaby

Jacob is the solo trumpeter for St. Joseph's Catholic Church and is on the trumpet faculty of New York Jazz Academy. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs funded series The Crow's Nest featuring Jacob's music and arrangements debuts May 31, 2013 at Steinway Reformed Church in Astoria.

Please contact Kari Gaffney at Kari-On Productions for interview requests:706.993.2223 kari@karigaffney.com