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Tommy Igoe has followed in the footsteps of his late father, the renowned drummer Sonny Igoe, who was a member of numerous big bands from the 1940s and 1960s, such as those of Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, as well as television series such as the Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason shows.
To say that the Stewart Theatre performance of the Birdland All-Stars was spectacular would be an understatement; the almost two-hour show, with no intermission, was a tour de force of sustained collective musicianship from the unique ten-piece ensemble. The "little" big band had an unconventional setup, with the leader and rhythm section in front of the two saxophonists, two trumpets, and trombone at the rear. This arrangement allowed the musicians readily to see the leader's visual cues as well as enabling the audience to appreciate Tommy Igoe's extraordinary technical prowess as a drummer ‒ he has won numerous prestigious percussion awards and is acknowledged as one of the world's supreme jazz drummers. His early childhood affinity for drumming and subsequent training in classical piano are clearly manifested in the extraordinary bandleader he has become.
The ensemble's name derives from the band's weekly appearances over a nine-year period at New York's famed Birdland jazz club. The show opened, appropriately, with the Joe Zawinul composition "Birdland" that was the biggest hit of the jazz-fusion group Weather Report in the 1970s. At this early point in the concert it was obvious that Igoe does not regard drumming as purely skillful rhythmic accompaniment but as an integral component of the musical piece itself ‒ i.e., he approaches the tune in no way different from the other musicians, whether during ensemble or solo sections. A highlight of the concert featured a sequence of pieces in 4/4, 5/4, 6/8, and 7/4 time signatures – the latter written by the band's trombonist Jeanne Geiger and based on the film Neighbours (1952) about two neighbors' destructive feud over a flower. The band's time signatures basically oscillated between a jazz-rock 4/4 and 7/4 with two battling trumpets (Steffen Kuehn and Mike Olmos). The other pieces in the sequence had a mostly Latin feel with a masterly drum solo in 5/4 by the leader; Christian Pepin gave a very effective conga percussion solo on Michael League's Brazilian piece "Tio Macaco" ("We Like It Here").
Clearly the main focus of this concert was the upfront presence of Igoe – literally! – and he did not disappoint. It was particularly impressive when at one point he left his multi-drum, multi-cymbal drum set for a lone snare drum at stage front and center and contrasted the largely jazz-fusion/swing idiom of his current band in order to illustrate one of the roots of jazz, that of the New Orleans Dixieland idiom. This he accomplished by using only brushes on the snare drum plus trumpet (Mike Olmos), trombone (Jeanne Geiger), baritone sax (Tony Lustig) and soprano sax (Tony Peebles); guitarist Drew Zingg and the superb rhythm section consisting of keyboardist Ted Baker, bassist Leo Traversa, and percussionist Christian Pepin were silent on this piece.
As expected, Igoe closed the nearly two hour concert with an up tempo Chick Corea piece entitled "Got a Match"; solos involved all the musicians alternating 16 bar drum exchanges with each player and culminating with an extended spectacular drum solo…, and as one unnamed music critic opined "Tommy Igoe's drumming defies the Laws of Physics." Q.E.D.
Note: This concert was part of NC State Live's ongoing season.