Jon Irabagon Interview, NYC

By Filipe Freitas

Jon Irabagon, 2017 ©Clara Pereira

Jon Irabagon, 2017 ©Clara Pereira


Name: Jon Irabagon
Instrument: saxophone
Style: contemporary jazz
Album Highlights: Outright! (Innova Records, 2008), It Takes All KInds (Jazzwerkstatt/Irabbagast, 2013), Behind The Sky (Irabbagast Records, 2015)




You are the headliner of the 19th AngraJazz Festival, which happens in October in Angra do Heroismo, Azores, Portugal. What does this invitation represent to you?
It is humbling to be considered a headliner amongst all the great acts that are performing at AngraJazz.  To me, AngraJazz is one of the most prominent, important festivals in Europe, so it is a huge blessing to be able to perform here for the first time, and especially as a leader.  I am very proud of this quartet so I am excited to debut it in Europe on this tour.  And of course, the Azores is such a beautiful area, so I definitely will be exploring Terceira... and hopefully another island as well!

What can the audience expect from your quartet performance? Will you draw exclusively from Behind the Sky or play new material as well?
We will be performing music from Behind the Sky as well as music from a brand new record that I hope to have available for the performance, even though it is coming out in early 2018.  The new record is entitled Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics and takes a nod from traveling circus shows and sideshows from the past.  This new record features the great Tim Hagans on several tracks, and represents a step further in the evolution of this quartet.

What do you think about this year's lineup?
I have followed AngraJazz for many years now, and the festival always brings high-level acts and many different styles and philosophical ideas to the people.  It's a very well run festival and the programming is unique.  I am looking forward to catching as many of the artists as possible.

Pick your favorite one:
a) studio or live performance?  
I used to say hands down live performance, but recently I've been working in the studio and with post-production, and there definitely is an art to crafting something to be laid down for all time. 
b) small ensemble or big band?  
Small ensemble for me is fun and challenging, but many of the best small ensemble players got their starts in big bands, myself included.  There is a camaraderie in big bands that cannot be replicated, and definitely a sound that can be spectacular
c) small clubs or big festivals?  
The small clubs are where you can really connect with your audience and get into some special places with your group, but there is nothing like big festivals for the adrenaline!

If you had total power to change the current jazz scene, what would be your moves?  
That is a very complicated question!!  I suppose I would lobby for more cross-listening and less segregation between the different styles.  Part of what I find so magical, so mystical about jazz and improvisation is when two seemingly disparate styles or people come together and create something new.  There is a time and a place for perfection and pristine performances, though I tend to gravitate towards the unknown-- not minding bumps or mistakes along the way.

What was the first jazz album you fell in love with?  
There were several simultaneously-- Cannonball Adderley Quintet Live in San Francisco, Dave Holland Quartet's Conference of the Birds, Sean Bergin's Copy Cat and John Coltrane's Blue Train all took me into different directions.  

Which other styles do you listen to? Tell me your favorites for each style.  
I listen to as much different music as possible; recently I've been checking out different Balkan musicians as well as Bartok and Shostakovich string quartets

Can you tell me two persons who influenced you the most as a musician?  
I've been lucky to be in the bands of two people who influenced me before I had the chance to play with them:  Barry Altschul and Dave Douglas. I obtained as many records as I could by both of these musicians, both as leaders and sidemen, and transcribed tunes and solos and listened exhaustively to each.  When the time came that I was able to play with them, this previous listening gave my real-life interactions with them more life and meaning, and I am grateful to both for the learning, both on and off the bandstand, that they have provided.

If you weren't a musician what would you have been?  
It took me a few years to realize it, but I couldn't have been anything except a musician. 

In which projects are you involved at the moment?  
This quartet that is performing here has a new record called Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics and is coming out in early 2018.  I recorded a solo mezzo soprano (in F) record in August that will also be released early next year, and I'm hoping to bring an organ trio I've been leading with Gary Versace and Nasheet Waits into the studio in 2018 for a release late in the year.  All of these records will come out on my record label, Irabbagast Records.