A FEW MINUTES WITH… Tommy Igoe of the Birdland All Stars
By Rudy Lu
Tommy Igoe has played drums on three Grammy Award-winning recordings and was voted the No. 1 jazz drummer in the 2014 Modern Drummer Reader’s Poll. In 1997, he wrote the drum set book for Disney’s epic Broadway production of the “The Lion King,” where he served as principal drummer and conductor. And he’s created an ongoing weekly musical residency at the iconic NYC jazz club, Birdland, that’s endured for more than a decade.
Q: So how did the Birdland All-Stars come to be?
A: I created the Birdland Big Band 12 years ago. But for this tour, I finally have the band that I have always wanted to tour with! Musicians and music fans have always idolized artists who break the rules. Charlie Parker, the namesake of the Birdland jazz club, was a musical renegade, and in the spirit of his genius, I wanted to put together a band that could follow in the great tradition of breaking the rules and coming at new and old music from a fresh perspective – and simultaneously be a joyous emotional experience for the audience. We’ve made people cry with our music, as well as jump out of their seat cheering and jumping for the music. It’s a truly emotional journey.
Q: The band plays a pretty wide spectrum of music – tunes composed by jazz greats Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker and Chick Corea, as well as songs by David Bowie, Steely Dan and the Beatles. What are the different challenges of creating big band arrangements of time-honored jazz compositions as opposed to classic rock songs?
A: Putting a fresh spin on iconic music is always a delicate balance between adventure and respect. I have several top-notch arrangers in my band who honor the music while applying my aesthetic and their instincts to break the rules. I am not a fan of making popular tunes unrecognizable. I much rather put a fresh spin on cherished songs that still leaves the melody right up front where it should be.
Q: One very interesting element of your concert at Proctors is that you’ll be accompanied by the artist Jeremy Sutton, who will be painting live during the performance. How did that collaboration come about?
A: This concept has long been a dream of mine; mixed artistic disciplines on one stage under the umbrella of improvisation. That’s jazz. Creation on the spot is the hallmark of the idiom. Jeremy Sutton has to create instantly on the spot with us because I don’t tell him what we are playing before the show! He has no idea of the songs or tempos or themes. He is having as much as improvisational experience as the band. And every night he creates new masterpieces that have to be seen to be believed.