Alumni Spotlight: Keyboardist Tom Brislin Touring with Kansas

Alex Evans, Managing Editor

Tom Brislin’s sense of purpose in life has always been clear.

The 1996 William Paterson graduate has always been drawn to music, often writing and composing songs from an early age.

“I was forming bands as a kid and I would say from about 12 years old I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

Today, that passion for music remains as strong as ever. Brislin is currently on tour as a keyboardist with Kansas, the legendary rock band with hits such as “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry On My Wayward Son.” The band began its tour on February 28, with upcoming shows slated for April 4 at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego and The Orpheum Theatre on April 6 in Los Angeles.

Brislin’s college experience had a big impact on his career trajectory. Having entered William Paterson with a primarily classical music background, he was exposed to and learned about jazz music under the guide of accomplished professors such as Vinson Hill, Pete Malinverni, Harold Mabern and Rufus Reid, who helped create the Jazz Studies and Performance degree program at the school.

“So many of my fellow students were immensely talented, and it was always motivating to be around musicians so dedicated to their craft,” he said.

It was at William Paterson, where he started as a resident before moving off-campus and commuting, that Brislin formed the group You Were Spiraling. Later know as just Spiraling, the college band’s sound partially reflected the wide array of musical styles that permeated Brislin’s coursework—progressive rock, electronic music, jazz and classical music, among others.

The band took advantage of the short commute to New York City, honing its sound with gigs at CBGB’s and Kenny’s Castaways, as well as Billy Pat’s Pub in the student center.

After Spiraling ended, Brislin released the album “Hurry Up and Smell the Roses” in October 2012. He cited the song “Industry in the Distance” as one that has a special place in his heart, capturing a time in his life when he moved to a new environment.

It was just a few years after graduation, however, when his music career really took off.

After graduating, he began to play keyboards for Glen Burtnik, a former member of Styx who was born in Irvington, New Jersey.

Burtnik then connected Brislin with Kasim Sulton, Meat Loaf’s bassist and musical director at the time. After a successful audition, he joined the group as a rock keyboardist for the start of what would be a four-year run of TV show appearances and a world tour.

“My first performance with Meat Loaf was on VH-1 Storytellers,” Brislin said. “I had done a few weeks of rehearsal with the band but I had only met Meat Loaf a few days before we filmed.”

Brislin’s reputation and word of mouth led to the landing of subsequent tours and performances with Yes, a group he had been a fan of growing up, as part of the “Symphonic Live” tour and concert DVD. He also worked with Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Dennis DeYoung of Styx.

The demanding rock keyboard repertories of Yes landed Brislin on the radars of numerous prog-rock bands as well, including Camel and Renaissance.

“I came to discover that it’s more than delivering the music, it’s about being able to tour and work well on the road,” he said.

Despite playing with groups he idolized growing up, Brislin was able to get over any star struck feelings early on. With a schedule oscillating between world tours and big venues and playing with his own band in smaller clubs, he remained grounded through it all.

Kansas learned about Brislin through one of his projects, “The Sea Within,” an international rock supergroup formed in 2017 that features top musicians such as Roine Stolt of Flower Kings, Jonas Reingold of the Steve Hackett Band and Casey McPherson of Flying Colors. As an official member of the band, Brislin is even writing some music for the group’s next album.

Despite having accomplished so much in his career already, Brislin is driven by a feeling that he hasn’t yet reached his full potential as a musician and composer. He’ll continue to create; some ideas might fit Kansas while others may gel better with other ventures.

“There’s so much more I want to say musically,” he said, “and I’m excited that there are so many avenues to express these ideas.”

“I’m just creating first and asking questions later.”