Fernando Tarango has tasted the limelight, lived around the country and even traveled around the world, but he calls Fort Wayne home. He lives in a city crowded with musicians, either rooted here and playing for fun or striving towards bigger things in their careers. Tarango wants both. He’s confident Fort Wayne is just the place to live and work while building a solid career for himself and a following for his band, Fernando Tarango and the Wickersham Brothers.Tarango’s musical career began early. At age 10 he was sent to sing at the American Boychoir School in Princeton, New Jersey. Over the course of the four years he attended, Tarango traveled and sang all over the United Stated and overseas, traveling for weeks at a time in some cases.
His leap from choral performer to recording artist was not immediate, and several years passed before he discovered his talent and love for writing and performing his own music.
“In high school I wanted to do musical theater. I didn’t get accepted to the musical theater program at Michigan, so I went on vocal performance and really enjoyed that,” Tarango said. “It wasn’t till my senior year of college that I started songwriting, and then it started creeping in and I thought that this is something that I really enjoy doing. I think I can do this.”
Tarango lived in San Francisco, Ann Arbor and briefly on a cruise ship, making his living quite successfully as a musician. But in the end, Fort Wayne was his destination – not to settle down, but to branch out.
“You can really get stuff done in a community like Fort Wayne. There’s enough room for opportunity and a strong network of people that support each other here, especially on the artistic level,” he said. “It’s been an excellent place to get rooted and try to gain some momentum.”
As a full-time musician, Tarango has his hands in a plethora of musical ventures that keep him busy around the clock. He teaches voice lessons, helped develop a family band and works for The Jesters, a music and theater troupe for the developmentally disabled. He has also signed on to work in a new healing arts program at Parkview Hospital where musicians and artists will be performing and working with patients.
“In order to do what you like, you have to do a lot of those things that you don’t like – a lot of administrative work, writing up invoices, signing contracts, e-mailing people,” he said. “I’m growing, which is excellent, but it’s also difficult to make sure I’m leaving room to do what I want to do – song writing and practicing – each day.”
Tarango got a dose of instant notoriety on a country-wide level recently when he and his band were featured in a national commercial for Old Spice. The commercial, which was shot at a gig downtown in Fort Wayne, lit up news outlets with a sense of pride for their native son.
His band is one more undertaking Tarango squeezes into his repertoire of musical ventures. The group, born out of the mutual musical interests of Tarango and bassist Cale Reese, played their first gig as a three-piece at Taste of the Arts 2012.
“I think I’m just realizing that one thing I enjoy in music is that collaborative process,” he said, “making music together with people and filling a space with energy of multiple people working together to achieve something greater.”
In the space of the last year, they have grown as a group by leaps and bounds, adding Brad Crossland on drums, Jason Markzon on congas and Logan Weber on sax to the mix for a more full and collaborative lineup. They were also able to lay down a full-length, self-titled album.
The band shirks genre labels and aims for variety on their debut album, which was released earlier this month. Songs slip seamlessly from smooth, crooning jazz to peppy, folk-rock inspired tunes. While Tarango calls the East L.A. sounds of the 60s his biggest inspiration, the group collaborates to explore the character of each individual song. The end result is a studied, eclectic record.
“We call it Americana jazz rock. It’s not Americana, it’s not jazz and it’s not rock. It’s got elements that are reminiscent of all three, but we drift between styles. I love music, but I don’t like any one genre of music for an hour straight,” Tarango said. “I’m looking for audience members that are like me, that wouldn’t mind hearing a great, jazzy kind of ballad and then a fun hip-hop groove right after.”
Tarango’s excitement and pride in the work his band has put into their album is overshadowed only by excitement at the possibilities his future holds in the city he cares so much about.
“I think we have something like 14 percent of the U.S. population living within 250 miles of Fort Wayne,” he said, “so it’s very possible to make a living on an independent level, writing music and performing here.”
Working towards his master’s degree and as a full-time musician while running a band is a tall order for Tarango to fill, but his work is an inspiration to those around him. As this city endeavors to expand in enterprise, culture and allure, it takes people like Tarango and the Wickersham Brothers who are willing to tie their talents to their home to make it happen.
“I don’t want to be just a songwriter and just a band. I want to play and produce with all the talent here in Fort Wayne. I really want to reach the Midwest with my music and performance.”
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