Travellin’ Light

Jon Irabagon
Answers 20 Questions About Life on the Road

Jon Irabagon                                                                                                           ©2013 Bryan Murray

Jon Irabagon first garnered international attention by winning the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, which led to the release of The Observer (Concord), his 2009 major label debut. By then, Irabagon had been a member of the acclaimed Mostly Other People Do the Killing for five years. The precocious deconstruction and the no-holds-barred satire of sundry jazz styles and conventions that distinguishes MOPDtK is also rampant in most of Irabagon’s projects, typified by Foxy (Hot Cup; 2010), a trio date with bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Barry Altschul that plays on both Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy” and the iconic cover art of Way Out West. In 2012, Irabagon launched Irabbagast Records. The first releases were I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues Volume 2: Appalachian Haze, which adds Mick Barr’s avant-metal guitar to the duo with drummer Mike Pride, and Unhinged, and the newest special-guest studded album by Outright!, Irabagon’s quintet with Ralph Alessi, Jacob Sacks, John Hebert and Tom Rainey.

Currently, Irabagon can be heard with Altschul’s trio with bassist Joe Fonda on The 3Dom Factor (TUM), along with Barry and Joe Fonda, and Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s latest, Slippery Rock. A wave of other CDs will begin dropping in the spring, including a MOPDtK disc with guests Ron Stabinsky, Brandon Seabrook and Dave Taylor, and albums by Mike Pride's From Bacteria to Boys, Dave Douglas Quintet and Mary Halvorson’s Septet. In addition to these ensembles, Irabagon will be touring his new trio with Altschul and Mark Helias.

For more information on Jon Irabagon, consult:

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What is the most difficult airline to deal with in terms of instruments and equipment?

I’ve been dealing with Star Alliance these days, and they have been ok. I used to use Delta, but I was sometimes getting hassled for bringing my tenor on with me. I also know many musicians who have had major problems with them, so I stopped whenever possible. I heard recently that they have changed their policy for the better though.


Which airline has the worst economy seating and food?

I’m a pretty short guy, so economy seating isn’t really a problem. Most airline food tastes pretty much the same to me.


Which airport is craziest for making connecting flights?

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Bergen, Norway, and the connection time from
NYC to Oslo to transfer to Bergen is 50 minutes ... and you have to pick up your bag and recheck it. Definitely stressful and if there are any problems or delays with your bag, you’ll have to get on the next flight.


What is the most important thing you ever forgot to pack?

Passport. Luckily I had enough time to go home and get it.


What is your worst lost baggage story?

On one of the trips to Bergen I mentioned, my bag did not arrive with the plane. The airline said it would arrive the next day, but I told them it had to get to me by the early afternoon, as I was taking a train three hours away for a gig. It didn’t get to me in time, so they supposedly sent the bag to the other town. I left that second town by car up into the mountain area to play a show, and they supposedly sent it to the hotel that I was staying at, three hours away from the second town. It didn’t get to me there. I returned to Bergen for one night to fly home the next day. I basically picked up the bag at the airport, the morning of me flying back to the States.


What country hassles musicians the most at customs and passport checks?

Besides the good ol’ USA, I’d have to say Canada and England.


Which city has the worst cab drivers?

No idea.


What is the best hotel that a presenter has provided for you?

We’ve stayed in some amazing hotels and resorts. There is one in Bezau, Austria that has great hospitality and a great vibe.


Do you travel with a laptop or a PDA? If so, how many times a day do you
check your e-mail?

I travel with a laptop, and I check my email once in the morning and once in the afternoon.


Do you listen to music on the road? If so, what device do you use?

I’ll listen to music on my laptop or my iPhone.


Do you do your own laundry on the road?

If the tour is long, I’ll either find a laundromat on a day off or try to use the sink in the hotel room.


What is your most nightmarish sound check to date?

There have been many that go something like this: the band shows up before the sound guys and the venue is locked, then the backline they have is completely wrong, then the sound guys show they have no idea what they are doing or what kind of music they are doing sound for, then during the show, they continually change the levels of each musician, depending on how loud or soft they are playing.


What is the scariest food that has been laid out for you backstage?

I’ve seen some meat and cheese plates that looked like they had been around
for a few months ...


What are your three favorite venues?

I love the Bimhaus in Amsterdam, the operahouse in Warsaw and Bunker Ulmenwall in Bielefeld, not to mention festivals like Moers.


Which cities have the best restaurants for late after-gig meals?

If you are able to meet some locals, most places have some kind of great afterhours hang for drinks and meals.


Which cities have the best after-hours sessions?

We’re usually hanging at the bar after the gig ...


What is the best city that closes down too early?



What is the best locale to have a day off?

Any town with some culture, history and interesting people can be a great place to spend a day off.


What is your cure for jet lag?

I try to stay awake as long as possible the day I arrive, which works about 50% of the time.


What is your best tip for the novice?

Have fun while it’s going on!

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