Sunday, August 4, 2013

Catching Up With Down Beat Rising Tenor Saxophone Star Jon Irabagon

irabagon_bryan_murray5You have been voted Rising Star In The Tenor Saxophone category for the Down Beat Readers poll.Over the last year I have reviewed more than a half dozen releases you have played on that varied greatly in style and presentation and all superb in musicianship. Is diversity as an artist more important now than perhaps it was say five years ago when the music business was hurting more than it is now?

J.I. - "It all depends on who the musician is, where they are coming from with the music and what they ultimately want to say with their music.  I know many musicians who are really into their own thing-- their own compositions or their own world of sounds.  They want to play their music, and that's it.  That's a great way to be-- they can really focus and spend their time on their own creation and really push where they are coming from with their music.  For myself, and a lot of musicians I know, our search includes as many influences and inputs as possible.  I feel like there is so much music out there that there is a lot to be had from checking out as much of it as I can.  My personality is that I like an all-inclusive type of writing and playing, so I've had to research all these different genres to try to get closer to the roots of everything.  These processes in those different types of music have helped develop my own ear and my own compositional and improvisational voice, but I don't necessarily think that it's the right way to go for absolutely everyone." 


This may be like asking a parent to pick out their favorite child but what has been your favorite release to work on and why? I'm partial to the Barry Atschul release on Tum records.

J.I. - "You're totally right-- every recording and project has a different place in my heart.  Working with Barry the last four years has been a magical experience-- not just for the road stories and the music-- but also to meet an older statesman of the music who has varied interests as I do, and had found a complete and informed way to tie those interests together and still sound exactly like himself, no matter what he plays.  It has also been great to trade roles with him-- sometimes play in his band, and then alternately have him play in mine.  It's been a deep learning experience, for sure. 

That being said, the Outright! Unhinged record of mine was a joy to work on from beginning to end.  To get to write music specifically for the great musicians on the record (Ralph Alessi, Jacob Sacks, John Hebert and Tom Rainey) was a thrill, and then getting to workshop the tunes and see them grow and develop was even better.  Finally, recording the thing and getting it out there was a dream come true, and the response to the record has made the whole long (and expensive!) process completely worth it.

And of course, working as a sideman with so many talented visionaries has only helped my own music grow.  Playing with Mary Halvorson for the last several years and Dave Douglas for the last year has really altered my perceptions of what music can be, and hopefully my own music grows with those experiences."