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On Center: Tommy Igoe and his Birdland band

by on December 01, 2017 9:30 AM

People who appreciate high-octane jazz can experience the vibe of a landmark club when drummer Tommy Igoe and his big band, in their first tour in five years, recreate the excitement of an evening at Birdland. Featuring some of the finest musicians in New York City, The Birdland All-Stars sets the standard for a 21st-century jazz orchestra.

The Penn State concert — January 26 at Eisenhower Auditorium — is scheduled to include new arrangements of music by David Bowie, The Police, and Steely Dan, plus fresh treatments of compositions by Charlie Parker, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock.

The Birdland All-Stars band, which has been thrilling audiences at “The Jazz Corner of the World” for more than a decade, is one of the Big Apple’s most popular music attractions.

“The band plays with mastery and conviction …,” writes a JazzTimes reviewer. “The band’s fresh charts and bravura style keep it from lapsing into echoes of the past. Igoe conveys a contagious groove as a drummer, and he has chops to burn.”

Igoe has percussion flowing through his veins. His father, Sonny Igoe, played in the swing-era big bands of Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, and Charlie Ventura.

The younger Igoe, who began drumming before he was 2 and studied piano starting at 10, was named the world’s best jazz drummer in the 2014 Modern Drummer Reader’s Poll. He has played drums on several Grammy Award-winning recordings and was the principal drummer and associate conductor for Disney’s original Broadway production of The Lion King.

In 2012, Igoe and the Birdland band released Eleven, a collection of funk, Latin, and contemporary jazz arrangements.

“This high-octane orchestra is defined by fast and furious playing from its brass, horns, and hot percussion, producing a truly electrifying sound that distinguishes it from other ensembles,” an writer relates in his review of the album.

Igoe, who moved from New York City to San Francisco five years ago, also has a West Coast big band called the Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy, which performs weekly at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in the city by the bay.

“I don’t hire musicians who need to be led,” Igoe tells a interviewer. “I studied classical and jazz piano for twenty years, so I can speak the language of every instrument. I talk to the audience. That’s my secret sauce. I am committed to breaking the wall down between performer and audience. I want to invite them in. Jazz can get very exclusionary. I want complete engagement.”

The percussionist, who is also a teacher and an inspirational speaker, is the creator of the popular Groove Essentials series of DVDs and play-along books.

Shirley J. Coploff, Nancy Gamble, and Lam and Lina Hood sponsor the concert. For tickets and information, visit or phone (814) 863-0255.

John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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