STLJN Saturday Video Showcase: In the Tradition with Sherman Irby


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This week, we present some video clips of alto saxophonist Sherman Irby, who will be in St. Louis next week to do an educational residency for Jazz St. Louis and perform on Friday, October 28 and Saturday, October 29 at Jazz at the Bistro.

A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the 43-year-old Irby first gained wide attention in the 1990s with two solo albums on Blue Note and a three-year stint in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra directed by Wynton Marsalis. During that time, he also recorded and toured with Marcus Roberts and was part of Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead program. Since then, Irby's other notable associations include the late drummer Elvin Jones, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and Papo Vazquez's Pirates Troubadours. In recent years, Irby has concentrated mostly on leading his own bands, working in jazz education as regional director for JazzMasters Workshop, and running his own record label, Black Warrior, though he also recently rejoined JaLCO after the departure of saxophonist Wessell Anderson.

As a player, Irby comes out of the bop tradition of Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt and Cannonball Adderley, and excels particularly at the hard-bop idiom popularized by the latter. The first video up above, a performance of “Ah Ite' recorded at Cecil's Jazz Club in West Orange, NJ provides a fine example of Irby's skills; it starts with a two-minute duet between drummer Alvester Garnett and Irby, during which the saxophonist offers a constant flow of ideas, nimbly executed. The group, which Irby calls Organomics, also includes guitarist Bruce Edwards and organist Fred McFarlane.

You can see and hear more of them in the next two videos, playing Freddie Hubbard's composition “Straight Life" and offering a nice rendition of the ballad “You Don't Know Me" that takes on a bit of a gospel feel toward the end. Below that, there's an except from an Organomics live performance in 2009 at the Somerville Jazz Festival in New Jersey.

The fifth and final clip dates from Irby's tenure with Roy Hargrove, and looks to have been recorded sometime in the late 1990s. It features Hargrove's Latin jazz band Crisol playing the Kenny Dorham composition “Una Mas." After trombonist Frank Lacy and Hargrove do their bits, Irby solos, then trades licks with tenor man David Sanchez, making the most of a brief turn in the spotlight.

For more about Sherman Irby, check out the podcast he just recorded with Jazz St. Louis director of education Phil Dunlap.

Also, the Sax on the Web forum has an interesting discussion of Irby's technique and equipment here; the website Afrocentric News has a brief interview/profile here; and you can hear Irby talking about his influences, practice routine and more in a series of short audio clips recorded for the Monterey Jazz Festival here.

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