Jon picked up the alto saxophone in 4th grade and the piano soon thereafter, but didn’t become serious about music until high school, where he learned about music from notable teachers Tom Beckwith and Greg Fishman.  He then began performing around the Chicago suburbs, and eventually went to DePaul University to major in music business and minor in journalism.  After accounting and economics classes during the day, Jon would perform in clubs nightly, gaining experience in the many different styles of music that Chicago had to offer.  The challenge of finding his own voice while also keeping true to the myriad of musical styles he’d have to play from night to night was an integral part of the fun for Jon during this period, and he subsequently realizes the effect that this has had on his music ever since.

During this period, Jon was able to perform with jazz masters John Abercrombie, Tom Harrell, and Dick Oatts, rock and pop superstars Richard Marx and the Pointer Sisters, and the then up-and-coming crooner Michael Buble.  Jon also had the good fortune of learning on the bandstand from many of Chicago’s best musicians, including Ron Kolber, Ryan Shultz, Tom Hipskind, Neal Alger, Larry Kohut, Eric Montzka, John McLean, and Jerry Coleman, while studying formally with Greg Fishman, Mark Colby, and Bob Palmieri.  

In the fall of 2001, Jon relocated to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music and study with one of his idols, Dick Oatts.  Jon also studied with Dave Liebman, Dave Binney, Jason Moran, and Billy Drewes at this time, and received a Masters Degree in 2003.  Jon played lead alto in the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra during his years there, and can be heard on the album Sketches of Spain Live! The Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra with Dave Liebman.  Jon was consequently invited to play lead alto for the newly-formed jazz program at the Juilliard School, and studied under the tutelage of Victor Goines, receiving an Artist Diploma there in 2005.  Since that time, Jon has been performing in and around New York City, and has toured through the entire continental United States, Europe, Costa Rica, Japan, and Taiwan.  

Jon is fortunate enough to have been recognized in Downbeat Magazine’s Student Music Awards both for performance (2004) and composition (2006), and was a participant in the 2003 Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles, the 2006 Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program in Washington, D.C., and the 2008 Steans Institute of Jazz in Chicago, IL, meeting and working with legendary jazz educator David Baker.   

In the midst of all of these accolades and programs, Jon began making a name for himself in New York, and has performed, recorded and/or toured with Billy Joel, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Dave Liebman, Kenny Barron, Evan Parker, Dave Holland, Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes, Wycliffe Gordon, Dave Douglas, Joey DeFrancesco, James Carter, Rufus Reid, Tony Marsh, Kenny Wheeler, Deborah Gibson, Craig Taborn, Louie Bellson, John Taylor, Johannes Fink, Victor Lewis, Jeremy Pelt, Barry Altschul, Lou Reed, John Hebert, Kenny Washington, Frank Kimbrough, Okkyung Lee, TS Monk, Tobias Delius, Adam Nussbaum, EJ Strickland, Mary Halvorson, Ron Sexsmith, Paul Dunmall, Tommy Igoe, Nicholas Payton, Brad Shepik, Tony Buck, Eugene Chadbourne, William Parker, Mark Helias, Charles Gayle, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Michael Buble, Warren Wolf, and John Edwards, to name a few.  Jon has also performed and recorded modern classical works of composer Dmitri Tymoczko and Remigijus Merkelys, has worked with the Pascal Rioult Dance Company, and has toured with Chicago the Musical.  

Jon began playing as a sideman in many projects at this time, all of which opened up Jon’s vision and thinking as he planned to begin recording as a leader.  These groups offered different takes on the jazz tradition and where jazz stands today.  These forward-thinking groups include Matt Grason’s Motel Project (which features several of Washington, D.C.’s most daring freestyle beat poets), the freely-improvising RIDD Quartet (Clean Feed Records), the Jostein Gulbrandsen Quartet (Fresh Sound New Talent), Jon Lundbom’s Big Five Chord (Hot Cup), the Mary Halvorson Quintet (Firehouse 12), Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys (AUM Fidelity), Bryan and the Haggards (Merle Haggard meets Paul Motian) and the acclaimed terrorist bebop band Mostly Other People do the Killing, which features Peter Evans, Moppa Elliott, and Kevin Shea.  This ensemble was named Top Rising Star Ensemble in Downbeat’s 2009 awards, and also have been nominated for Best Jazz Ensemble for the Jazz Journalists Awards in both 2009 and 2010.  MOPDtK has played many major jazz festivals, including the Warsaw Jazz Festival, the Vancouver Jazz Festival, and the Moers Jazz Festival in Germany.  Three of the group’s albums, Shamokin!!!, This is Our Moosic, and Forty Fort, were named in numerous Top 10 Jazz CD Lists in 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively.  Their first live recording, The Coimbra Concert, was released on Clean Feed Records in January 2011.  Due in part to his work with MOPDtK, Jon also has been a regular in the Rising Star Alto Saxophone category in the Downbeat Critics’ Poll, winning the category in 2011.  He was also nominated for “Tenor Saxophonist of the Year” and “Up and Coming Artist of the Year” in 2011 by the Jazz Journalists Association, as well as being named in Time Out New York’s “25 New York City Jazz Icons” list.     

Jon then took all these experiences and began his career as a bandleader.  His first record, Outright! (Innova Records), was released in May of 2008.  This quintet, which features Russ Johnson, Kris Davis, Eivind Opsvik, and Jeff Davis (along with a myriad of guest artists), is dedicated to honoring the jazz tradition by using the different styles found under its umbrella and joining them all-- sometimes smoothly, sometimes at war with each other-- through group and free improvisation.  Outright! has been called “one of the most impressive debuts of recent times,”  (All About Jazz Italy) and features six of Jon’s compositions as well as an unruly take on Dizzy Gillespie’s classic bebop tune “Groovin’ High.”  

For his second album, Jon turned to long time friend Mike Pride, and the result landed on several Top 10 CD lists of 2009.  I Don’t Hear Nothin’ But the Blues (Loyal Label) features an award-winning (Best Original Album Art of 2009, Village Voice) cover depicting Jon and Mike as traveling bluesmen playing on top of a moving train.  It is a 50 minute non-stop drum and sax duet full of shifting motifs, layered feels, and trapdoor-like genre changes into an epic collage that “ventures into uncharted territory with a bracing new vision.”  (Troy Collins, All About Jazz)  Further praise: “I Don’t Hear Nothin’ But the Blues is not only among this year’s finest experimental releases, but it’s also among the heaviest.”  (Hank Shteamer, Time Out New York), and “While the music certainly draws much of its power from the deep blues, there is also a vein of DIY punk running through it.”  (Jazz and Blues Blog)

All of these experiences as a leader and a sideman led to one of Jon’s proudest moments-- winning the 2008 Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition in Los Angeles, California, following in the footsteps of previous Monk saxophone winners Joshua Redman, Jon Gordon, and Seamus Blake.  The judges included many of Jon’s heroes-- Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heath, Greg Osby, David Sanchez, and Jane Ira Bloom.  In addition to a cash prize, Jon received a recording contract with Concord Records.  

This record, The Observer, came out in October of 2009 to rave reviews, and features one of the most esteemed rhythm section teams in all of jazz-- Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, and Victor Lewis.  Trumpet master Nicholas Payton and comping wizard Bertha Hope also lend their talents to this CD, which was recorded at legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.  Called “one of the most cohesive, consistent, and delightful discs of 2009,” (JazzTimes) The Observer, which features seven of Jon’s compositions alongside under-recorded classics by Gigi Gryce, Tom McIntosh, and Elmo Hope, demonstrates a contrasting side of Jon’s music and improvising-- melodic, mature, respectful, and poised.  

After this important step in Jon’s evolution, he wanted to make sure to challenge himself and combine this newfound experience with the rest of his musical arsenal.  Foxy (Hot Cup), released in September 2010, features unbridled and energetic long-form soloing with a celebratory air and jubilant abandon; it also features one of Jon’s favorite musicians-- the venerable Barry Altschul.  A non-stop 78 minute and 28 second saxophone improvisation tour-de-force, Foxy combines the inside/outside elements of Outright!, the long-form and motivic-based improvisation of I Don’t Hear Nothin’ But the Blues, and the vocabulary and apprenticeship found on The Observer. Rarely, if ever, do young musicians with Jon's mainstream credentials and awards attempt (or even care to attempt) such a range of ambitious projects.

At this point in his development, Jon became interested in starting his own label to release his own albums.  Due to both the state of the music industry and the exactness and hands-on requirements for his vision, Jon launched Irabbagast Records in November of 2012.  Two records will be released simultaneously, both follow-ups to previous albums.  “I Don’t Hear Nothin’ but the Blues Volume 2: Appalachian Haze” adds guitar whiz Mick Barr to the mix of Irabagon and Mike Pride, with the same set-up and motivic developments, but with Mick’s quicksilver lines brought into the mix.  Also released is Outright!’s 2nd album, “Unhinged,” featuring Ralph Alessi, Jacob Sacks, John Hebert and Tom Rainey along with several guests and the return of the Outright! Jazz Orchestra.  

Jon is also busy as a sideman and is featured on new records from the Dave Douglas Quintet, Mostly Other People do the Killing, the Mary Halvorson Quintet and Septet, Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys, the John Yao Quintet, Bryan and the Haggards, Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord and the Hot Club of Detroit.  

In addition to his increasing visibility in clubs, on radio, and at festivals, Jon is an active and dedicated teacher, having run masterclasses on improvisation, composition, music business, and woodwinds in the United States, Canada, England, Costa Rica, Germany, Scotland, and Japan.  


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