Tommy Igoe knows what's going through your mind when you hear the term "big band."
"It immediately makes you think of nostalgia," said the drummer and musical leader of the Birdland Big Band jazz ensemble that hits Toledo tonight.
"The whole art form is stuck. And some of the music that is looking forward sounds to me like music written for other musicians to appreciate, not just for normal music lovers. My job is to find this incredible music that isn't pandering that exploits rhythms, harmonies, and melodies from all over the globe and invite people into why they were written."
Igoe is the man for the job. In 2006 he formed his big band to play on Mondays in New York City. It's a notoriously dead night for music, but as word of mouth spread he went from playing an empty venue to routinely packing the venerable Birdland jazz club.
The secret is updating arrangements and selecting music that he considers vibrant and ready for a new treatment. Set lists include updates of Charlie Parker songs, and music from contemporary composers such as Herbie Hancock, Leonard Bernstein, Arturo Sandoval, and Chick Corea.
Igoe, the son of longtime jazz drummer Sonny Igoe, began drumming at the age of 2. Over the years he has played with Art Garfunkel, Blood Sweat and Tears, Dave Grusin, Stanley Jordan, and the New York Voices.
Igoe moved to San Francisco a few years ago, which ended the residency at Birdland, but he embarked on a tour earlier this month to take the experience across the country. He said the goal is to "shrink the size of the auditoriums" where the 15-person band plays and give the music a high level of intimacy.
"Here's what I tell our musicians: It's not enough to just sit there and play great, that's not enough anymore. It's the 21st century and we have to deliver this music with a renewed vigor. So it's my job as the leader of this thing to present this music in a way that emotionally connects with the audience," he said.
"So, one of the ways we're going to shrink the hall and bring the New York experience around the country is to bring all sorts of music from all over the world into the experience."
Igoe, 47, explains each of the songs after they're performed to educate the audience on the context in which the pieces were written.
"I can't think of anything more boring than hearing a piece of instrumental music and not understanding what it is, why it was written, and what it means. Pieces of music have history behind them. There's a story behind every piece of music that we play that anyone can emotionally connect to."
An extremely active artist, he also has a residency at the Rrazz Room in San Francisco, does instructional videos, writes music, and handles most of the promotion for the Birdland tour.
"It's a very busy life, but as my father said be careful what you wish for," he said, laughing. "But this is what I wanted and this is what I planned for."
Tommy Igoe's Birdland Big Band starts at 7:30 tonight at the Valentine Theatre, 410 Adams St. Tickets are $40, $31, and $24 and are available at the door or by calling 419-242-2787.
Contact Rod Lockwood at email@example.com or 419-724-6159.
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