An exciting big band event — with a twist!
Tommy Igoe and the Art of Jazz
An exciting big band event — with a twist!
The powerhouse Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy is all about excitement. This mighty 15-piece band unites players from Tower of Power, the Doobie Brothers, and Steely Dan, and unleashes them on brilliantly arranged charts. In this innovative show, Tommy is adding another artist to the roster — this time a visual artist, the painter Jeremy Sutton. Tommy and Jeremy will play off each other, with Jeremy painting what the music makes him feel — which you’ll be able to watch via an on-stage projection — and Tommy calling tunes based on how Jeremy’s paintings make him feel. And the resulting art will be available for purchase after the show! Tommy himself is the long-time leader of New York’s thrilling Birdland band and a Broadway drum guru — he wrote the drum book and shared conducting chores for Broadway’s The Lion King — and he reinvented his big band for his new SF musical home. Like the Buddy Rich juggernaut of the ’60s, TIGC channels your favorites — songs by Joe Zawinul, Joshua Redman, Arturo Sandoval, and Snarky Puppy — through a superstar brass line-up that manages to be scarily precise and wildly anarchic all at once. Only a studio and stage heavyweight like Tommy could wrangle the monsters assembled here.
Tommy Igoe, drums
Drew Zingg, guitar (Steely Dan)
Jeremy Sutton, visual artist
Aaron Lington, baritone saxophone
Tom Politzer, tenor saxophone
Colin Hogan, keyboards
Dewayne Pate, bass
Louis Fasman, trumpet
Steffen Kuehn, trumpet
John Gove, trombone
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Tommy Igoe often cuts a jocular figure behind the drum kit, joking with audiences, teasing his Groove Conspiracy bandmates, and generally presiding over performances with an irreverent air. His infectious sense of humor can obscure the extraordinary level of musicianship required to play his dauntingly difficult arrangements, but tonight’s concert offers a very different kind of diversion. Innovative San Francisco graphic artist Jeremy Sutton recently finished a 20-city tour with Igoe and the Birdland All-Stars, and at each concert he created new works on canvas, paper, and iPad as the band performed (with the pieces sold by silent auction immediately following each show). They’re teaming up again for tonight’s concert, the first time “The Art of Jazz” has been presented in the Bay Area.
“It’s always been my dream to combine artistic disciplines on the same stage,” Igoe says. “I don’t tell Jeremy the set list beforehand. He has no idea what we’re going to play, which is the same for the musicians. He’s creating completely unique performance pieces for every audience, visually representing what we do sonically.”
With his long, lanky frame, Igoe is a visually arresting performer by himself. A supremely versatile player who spent years touring with rock and pop acts, he became an international force in 1997 by creating the drum book for Disney’s hugely popular Broadway production of The Lion King. But his first love was jazz, a relationship that started at home. The son of the revered jazz and studio drummer Sonny Igoe (who toured with the likes of Benny Goodman and Woody Herman when he wasn’t a first-call studio player), Tommy grew up in a nexus of top-shelf jazz talent. He got his start on the road at 18 with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and went on to tour with Blood, Sweat & Tears, pianist Dave Grusin, New York Voices, and Art Garfunkel.
“Jazz royalty was in my house constantly,” Igoe says. “The biggest thing was there was always high-quality music being played. Jazz and classical from my dad. My sister constantly blasting the Beatles, The Who, and the Stones. I just took it all in. I never even realized until I got to college that people camped out in different styles. I still don’t understand it.”
Considering his lineage and experience, Igoe came to bandleading relatively late and entirely by accident. When a booking fell through, New York’s Birdland club asked him to put together a big band for a weekly spot. Determined to make the most of the situation, he gradually honed a highly cohesive band with a book of thrilling arrangements drawing on jazz, funk, Latin, and Brazilian rhythms. Before long, Igoe was attracting standing room only crowds on a weekly basis. When his wife landed a job at Google in 2012 Igoe moved west and reconstituted the group with a Bay Area cast. He’s found successive homes at the Rrazz Room and Yoshi’s, where Igoe appears regularly with the Groove Conspiracy, which usually ranges between nine and 12 pieces.
“It’s very important to know what you’re good at,” Igoe says. “I realized it by accident in New York. In the jazz community I’m able to set up camp and generate a phenomenal product that people want to see again and again.”
During his New York days Igoe contributed to hundreds of recordings as a top-shelf studio player, while also pouring his energy into education, producing instructional books and DVDs while teaching students privately (he still devotes 10 hours a week to private lessons). A magnet for talent, Igoe has built the Groove Conspiracy into a formidable act by turning the band into an arranger’s laboratory. The players are all top notch, a requirement given that the band often sight-reads new charts.
The band earned critical praise with its eponymous 2014 debut album, which reflects Igoe’s musical ADD and the band’s versatility. Igoe gets bored quickly, and every track stakes out different rhythmic territory, from funk and R&B to Cuban and Brazilian grooves. Trombonist John Gove’s arrangement of Joshua Redman’s “Jazz Crimes,” a tune from a time when the saxophone star was veering away from straight ahead jazz syncopation, sounds like a forgotten track from Steely Dan’s Aja. And in fact, the Groove Conspiracy has made the music of Steely Dan a specialty.
In 2016, Igoe released the album and DVD Reelin’ In the Years: The Steely Dan Project (Deep Rhythm Music), a live session recorded at Yoshi’s. Due to the vagaries of the 21st-century music business, the album is only available at shows and can’t be streamed or purchased online. The album, like tonight’s concert, prominently features guitarist Drew Zingg, who was a founding member of Donald Fagen’s New York Rock and Soul Revue. When Walter Becker joined the ensemble in 1992 it wasn’t long before the songwriting duo decided to relaunch Steely Dan.
With the band touring again in 1993 for the first time in two decades, Zingg held down the lead guitar chair and served as music director for two years, mixing it up with an ostentatiously talented crew, including keyboardist Warren Bernhardt, drummer Peter Erskine, saxophonist Chris Potter, and background vocalist Catherine Russell. Zingg’s searing guitar work is featured throughout the 1995 album Alive in America (Giant). With Zingg as a Groove conspirator it’s a safe bet that the band’s savvy arrangements of Steely Dan’s music will be providing some vivid imagery for Jeremy Sutton.
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