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Robert Irving III: Gaining Momentum

By Published: August 21, 2007

"Right before that I'd seen him in Europe at the North Sea Festival that summer. He looked fine. Every time I saw him he'd ask me if I was coming back to the band, Irving recalls with a chuckle. "I said, 'Well, I'll think about it.' Then he asked me how I liked the new group; there were some new players. Right after that, he was in Chicago at an outdoor festival and I actually didn't go, because I had just seen him and I said: I'll catch him next time. There was one more gig after that, and then he went into the hospital. I stayed in touch with him while he was in the hospital. We gave messages back and forth through Vince and through the road manager. He would ask about me. I still didn't know how severe it was. It's hard to imagine that he wouldn't always be there. It was a huge shock and a void that was there.

Miles claimed during his life that he had premonitions of things, and at times communicated with old friends who had passed away, like Gil Evans and Bird and Coltrane. Some observers said he could often tell who was at the door before a knock, or who was on the phone when it rang. He visited a psychic on occasion. Irving says his dreams have sometimes involved Miles.

"Since that time, I've dreamed about him at least twice a year. The dreams would always be backstage before a performance. He would always want to see me before we went on. Actually, to see what I was wearing. We were kind of competitive in terms of the fashion thing on stage. The dreams would be sort of that, back stage but never performing. Until right before New Momentum. Then we actually did a gig in a hall that looked like a shopping mall atrium, with plants and everything. It had no end. It just went forever. And it was an acoustic gig, which is something I'd never done with him. So it was sort of like a sign for me, a green light, to do New Momentum.

So Irving's career has gone on, performing with notable musicians and now trying to get gigs with his won trio to support his stellar new recording. He also just produced another Carrington album, this one on their Sonic Portraits label. "It's actually a sequel to Real Life Story. It's sort of patterned after that project in terms of song selection and the guest artists, with Nancy Wilson and George Duke and Patrice Rushen, Everette Harp, the bassist Jimmy Haslip from the Yellowjackets; just a long list of great players.

Irving also still paints (his New Momentum CD sleeve contains a portrait of Miles Davis entitled "Seven Steps to Heaven," converged with his painting entitled "Bitches Brew.") His work has been exhibited in New York and Chicago. He also finds time to write and arrange music. He's written songs for other people's projects, like Ramsey Lewis. He has produced movie scores, including 1987's Street Smart, starring Christopher Reeves, on which Miles played trumpet. It seems he's constantly creating.

Robert Irving III "That's real important to me. The creative part of it is really what I live for, he says.

"I share the same jack-of-all-trades master-of-none thing. I call myself an interdisciplinary arts entrepreneur. After high school I went to college for business administration and was in the insurance business for about three years. I approach all of the arts as being interrelated-painting, I write for a magazine, I teach, I have private students and I do a mentorship program for the Jazz Institute of Chicago. I don't look at those as disparate items. I look at them as being cohesive, sort of one blend of artistic endeavor and expression.

Besides moving on with his trio and creative acoustic piano, the ever-motivated Irving is already looking ahead.

"My next project is going to be a sextet project, and then I'm going to move into larger ensemble work, which is inspired by my work with Gil Evans."

Somewhere in there Baabe likely finds time for sleep. Exactly when might be the mystery.

Selected Discography

Robert Irving III, New Momentum (Sonic Portraits, 2007)
Miles Davis, Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991 (Warner Bros., 2002)
Wallace Roney, Village (Warner Bros., 1997)
David Murray, Dark Star: The Music of The Grateful Dead (Astor Place, 1996)
Miles Davis, Live Around the World (Warner Bros., 1996)
Robert Irving III, Midnight Dreams (Polygram, 1988)
Miles Davis, You're Under Arrest (Columbia, 1985)
Miles Davis, Decoy (Columbia, 1983)
Miles Davis, Man With the Horn (Columbia, 1981)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Tracy Love, courtesy of Sonic Portraits
Bottom Photo: Courtesy of Sonic Portraits

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