Mike Irwin

Wednesday, September 24
Ibeam: 168 7th St, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Emerging Players – $10
9pm Sam Neufeld, 10pm Benje Daneman, 11pm Mike Irwin.

How did you become a trumpet player? Did you play other instruments before the trumpet? If so, did those instruments inform how you played trumpet? Or did your view of how music is played change once becoming a trumpeter?

As long as I can remember I’ve always loved the trumpet. I had a Conn New Wonder cornet that was given to my family by our downstairs neighbor, Bennie Wallace. I would carry it around the house (and presumably try to play it) all day when I was a toddler. My father bought me a Bb Baritone horn from a thrift store when I was around 9 years old. I loved the sound of that instrument. I learned to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” and a few major scales that he’d written out for me. Shortly thereafter he bought me a trumpet. I think playing the baritone horn first made a big impact on how I thought the trumpet should sound. Other people’s high notes still amaze me.

Were there recordings in the beginning and even years into learning the instrument that drew you into the trumpet’s sound and possibilities?

One of the first records that really drew me in were Clifford Brown’s sessions as a leader on Blue Note. The way that he could play with such drive and attack at fast tempos and then play a ballad so beautifully made a big impression on me.

Before I started playing the trumpet when was 7 or 8, my mom took me to hear Dizzy Gillespie at one of the Jazzmobile concerts at Grant’s Tomb. I remember that as one of the most exciting shows I’d ever seen. His small group recordings were daily listening for me in when I was in middle school. I also really loved Dizzy’s early big band records like “Manteca.” His entrances are electrifying.
Kenny Dorham’s “Quiet Kenny” was a touchstone for me when I first started playing trumpet. My father gave me a tape of that LP and it wasn’t labeled. I remember being in my room and playing it on my boombox for the first time and saying “Yeah, Miles!” thinking it was Miles Davis playing with that sweet, tart tone. I eventually figured out that it was KD; I listen to a lot of his records ever since.

People often talk about how the trumpet is the hardest instrument to play. Do you feel this is true? What doesn’t the general public understand about playing the trumpet that you wish people would realize?

Most people aren’t aware of the high level of discipline it takes to play the trumpet with any degree of proficiency. It’s just not common knowledge. I think this creates a feeling of solidarity among trumpet players that might not always be found in groups of other instrumentalists. It’s like: “Hey, do you blow air into a metal tube every single day of your life hoping to make a beautiful sound?” Me too! Let’s grab a beer!” I think you see that same kind of fraternal feeling among double bass players. It comes from sharing a certain kind of suffering. I love seeing trumpet players share their knowledge with one another in the hopes of making their musical lives easier. Having a good teacher from the very beginning is essential.

If you had to identify with one or two gurus, trumpeters or otherwise, who had the greatest impact on your musical journey to date, who would they be?

My first guru is of course my father, Dennis Irwin. As a child I heard him play with The Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, Chet Baker, Dom Salvador, Johnny Griffin and many other great jazz musicians. My journey in music is a direct outgrowth of his dedication. The beauty of his life, and all the people in it, inspired me to choose music. When I first started playing his friends would give me lessons. I took a few lessons here and there with some really amazing trumpet players, but when he took me to see Laurie Frink I knew I was on the right track. I took only a handful of lessons with her over the years, but those lessons stuck with me. She made me feel, when I was twelve years old, that I could do anything on the trumpet.

Who is your favorite trumpeter today (as in today, the day you are writing this email) and what recorded song available to the public best exemplifies why this trumpeter is so badass?

Louis Armstrong is my favorite trumpet player today and just about everyday. Listen to him play and sing “Stardust.”