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Take Five with Christoph Irniger

Christoph Irniger By

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About Christoph Irniger:

Christoph Irniger, born 1979, is a Swiss saxophonist, composer and bandleader. According to the Sunday edition of the Neue Zuercher Zeitung he is "undoubtedly one of the greatest talents of his generation." In recent years, Irniger has made a name for himself in a range of line-ups, playing jazz, rock and related musical styles. Irniger is leader of the band Pilgrim and the Christoph Irniger Trio which between them have released several albums, mostly on Intakt Records. He is also co-leader of the prog-rock band Cowboys from Hell. His work has been documented on over twenty albums to date and he has played concerts and tours throughout Europe, Asia and the USA. His regular visits to Berlin and New York have led to a number of diverse collaborations, including: Nasheet Waits (No Reduce Jaywalkin' (nWog, 2013)), Michael Bates, Don Philippe, and the band Counterpoints with Ohad Talmor. Irniger teaches at Zurich University of the Arts and the Musikschule Konservatorium in Zurich.

Instrument(s):

Tenor Saxophone

Teachers and/or influences?

My way of playing is very much influenced by a lot of different musicians—manly jazz musicians—and all different kinds of music as also life itself. It gives the content and the need to do music and feed the passion, such as home, family, nature, meeting people, discussing, travelling and art. As saxophonist / musician, all my teachers had a big influence: Starting with a solid (French) classical education with Alphons Ruegg as a kid, learning about jazz improvisation and the spirit of this music from my second teacher Michael Allemand, to my teachers at Jazzschool Christoph Grab and Nat Su—as well as all the other teachers and co-students in these institutions. And of course, the music itself, mainly jazz music and having different idols at some point of my studies, such as: Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Steve Grossman / Dave Liebman (Live at the Lighthouse!), Chris Cheek, Mark Turner, Matt Renzi, Chris Speed, Tony Malaby, Wayne Shorter among many others (also from other instruments).

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I was around 20 years old. At that point I was studying with a Jazz School student, who was kind of an idol for me. After graduating from Gymnasium, I was applying for Jazz School myself and when I started there, became injected by the atmosphere of the music being the center of everybody's life there.

Your sound and approach to music:

I love jazz, and I see my playing / sound strongly rooted in this tradition, influenced by its various exponents—as also life itself. I don't see jazz as representing a particular sound or content, however, but as a way of making music. To me jazz is that music which always processes the music of its time. I hear music as different melodies. Also the bass, the rhythm, and the harmony. They are all kind of melodies for me which could work for themselves and all have the same value. There are compositions I wrote with melody but there are also a lot of compositions where you can't really say which is the melody, or you hear different melodies. I think that as a musician, you don't need to constantly try to reinvent yourself. If the environment is right, the music will reinvent the musician.

Your teaching approach:

I try always to put the needs of the student in the center and try to help him, so he can help himself. I also think it is very important to be open to any kind of musical style and try to do different things before judging—on any level.

Your dream band:

I am super happy with the musicians I am working with currently. They are not only some of my favorite musicians in the world, they are also some of my best friends.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

My worst experience was in Russia, when a tire broke in the middle of the night somewhere outside Moscow and a drunk guy came down the road and pulled a gun on us. It ended up being some of the luckiest moments as well when some young guys stopped by and took us to Moscow.

Favorite venue:

G Livelab, Helsinki: It is a super stylish place.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

Octopus by Christoph Irniger Trio. It is the kind of music I listen at home—very song oriented and works also as background.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Julian "Cannonball" Adderley: Somethin' Else (Blue Note)

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

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