Preview: John Irabagon with Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon, winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute competition in 2008, writes for us about his forthcoming gigs at the Pizza Express in Dean Street.

The two nights at Pizza Express in London featuring Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor along with myself, Michael Janisch and Andrew Bain are set to be a true highlight of my career thus far. The music and improvising of both Kenny and John transcends any sort of nationalistic boundaries and have provided limitless inspiration to an entire generation of musicians here in the United States, myself included.

One part of this inspiration comes from the sheer range of music Kenny and John have been involved in. Kenny, for example, has traded solos with Joe Henderson on Inner Urge (one of his difficult post-bop tunes), improvised freely with Steve Lacy, musically sparred with Steve Coleman, has had a long and lasting musical relationship with Dave Holland, and led and wrote extraordinary music for big band, amongst many other things. In an age where, at least in the States, people are trying to specialize in just one way of playing, Kenny can and should be looked up to for embracing all facets of jazz and improvised music and finding his own unique voice within all styles, in both compositional and improvisatory ways.

The same can be said of John Taylor. His compositions are challenging and beautiful at the same time, as is his playing. His composition “Ambleside” is one of the most difficult songs I have ever gotten a chance to solo on, but the intrinsic logic and beauty found within both the melody and chord movements make figuring out what is going on in it such a rewarding process. Both JT and Kenny’s compositions have affected how I write; the intricacies and small details, without relying on flashiness, are part of a higher level of thinking about melding melodies and harmonies in a jazz setting.

I have been looking forward to getting a chance to perform with these two masters of the music for several months now, and am excited to be presenting their music at the Pizza Express for two nights. This is the first time that Kenny and John have performed together in a small group (and in such an intimate venue) in the London area for nearly ten years, and I am humbled and honored to be a part of it. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th February, www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk

Jon Irabagon’s fourth CD as Leader, Foxy, is on Hot Cup Records

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