May 28, 2018
Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics
We have interviewed Jon Irabagon for the release of Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics, his latest album.
How did you choose the musicians for this project? How did Tim Hagans change - if he did - the sound of the band?
I've been playing with the rhythm section (Luis Perdomo, Yasushi Nakamura and Rudy Royston) for years; they are members of my jazz quartet, I play in Rudy's group 303 and his trio and we all play in other people's projects as well. The camaraderie and sense of fun and interplay between all four members is palpable and infectious, and the hangs off the bandstand are some of the most fun I've had on tour as well. We all taught at a summer jazz camp in Switzerland several years ago, and that's where I met Tim Hagans. I have been a fan of his playing with the Maria Schneider Orchestra and his own Blue Note records since the early '90s, and after getting to teach and hang with him for that week in Switzerland, I knew that I wanted him to be a part of this project and these specific compositions. His snaky lines, off-kilter (in the best way!) melodic and rhythmic sense and his stretching harmonies really pushed all of us and took this music to new heights.
Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics is a curious title; can you explain it?
As the music started coming together, I realized that a central theme to all this music is that I wanted to showcase the absolute terrifying and original abilities of everyone involved. As musicians, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the musicians around us are performing, to the average person, near-impossible acts of agility, stamina, grace and poise. I wanted to accentuate that, so this idea of a traveling circus, specifically funhouse mirrors and freak shows, started taking over the concept and artwork. I'm a big fan of Tim Burton, so I tracked down one of the artists that helped work on Mars Attacks and asked him to contribute the artwork. Colin Batty's cabinet cards are worth the price of admission alone, and there are almost 80 of them sprawled over the artwork panels that really drive home the idea of circus fun, wonder and creativity.
How do you work on compositions?
Each composition has its own story and its own conception. Sometimes it starts with a riff or melody I come up with on saxophone, sometimes on piano. Sometimes it comes out of a chord progression or a tone row I've been working on. For these specific compositions, I focused on writing what I wanted to hear my friends play and challenge them in different ways to keep them interested.
What is Jazz today in your opinion?
Fractured. There are so many camps out there and everyone in those camps believe their version to be "right." I find that my music and playing work best when I throw out all the pigeon-holing and stay in the moment and interact and listen as much as possible. I naturally am interested in different types of music or genres, and I will try to practice them to get as authentically close as possible, and hopefully in the middle of staying in the moment, that work and that love for those different styles will come out.
You recorded the record while on tour in Buenos Aires; did this affect the mood of the music?
The band was having a great time on tour; we had some great meals and some great hangs, and you can really hear that on this recording. Further, I had brought in the music just before the tour started, and we had played just enough gigs already for everyone to be comfortable with the long and changing forms. The days in the studio were at the perfect time when the music was starting to gel but not overfamiliar.
What would you suggest to a youngster wishing to become pro?
Get into music if you literally can't imagine yourself doing ANYTHING else. It's a tough career, with little to no guarantees or financial reward. But the people you meet and the truths you encounter and have to deal with on a daily basis are like nothing a "normal" career can get you. This life requires constant self-reflection and growth, and you have to be willing to face yourself head-on.
Music and the web: a curse or a gift?
A gift! I've heard so many albums and musicians that I never would have had the chance to otherwise. With it comes its own set of challenges, of course, but overall the possibilities have grown exponentially with the internet.
Which are your next projects?
I have a solo mezzo soprano saxophone record coming out later this year. I also wrote a piano quintet that features Matt Mitchell and the Mivos Quartet, and that six movement, 45 minute piece is coming out later this year as well. I'm also just putting the finishing touches on a 12-movement song cycle for mezzo soprano saxophone, mezzo soprano voice and piano. Preparing the music for Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics and expanding my compositional focus with these songs really has charted a new direction for my own albums and projects for the upcoming future, and it's exciting to release this album as the genesis of the upcoming projects and see how it will be received.
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