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Sherman Irby: Living On Faith
By Deardra Shuler

The sweet rhythm of Sherman Irby’s quartet wafted across the room and down 6th Avenue. The ancestors were in rapture as their spirits became one with the instruments and the musicians. There was something both corporeal and spiritual in the air that encased musicians Sherman Irby, Larry Willis, Gerald Cannon and Willis Jones, III in a melodic electrical charge of rhythmic blending.
It was as if piano, bass, drum and saxophone somehow spoke the same language. The group was white hot and put a slow burn on the Sweet Rhythm club, formerly known as Sweet Basil.

The previous day, saxophonist Sherman Irby, was already wide awake and composing music when we began our interview. Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Mr. Irby’s mother encouraged him to broaden his horizon and learn an instrument. "I started out playing viola, then guitar. I played piano in church and then finally moved onto the saxophone. Once I started playing that, I knew I was home because the sax became my voice," claimed the talent artist.

"I am presently writing a concerto for quartet and full symphony orchestra. I have already done 3 or 4 pieces and have been working on this project for the last 5 years. It’s turning out to be something special" claimed Sherman. "I listen to a lot of classical music and play different instruments in order to hear the sound and vibe. After a while, I start to see the orchestra as one big instrument, almost like a big organ where I see how all the colors meld together to make one sound. I do the same with my jazz quartet. I have all four of us play together to produce one sound. When I compose, the music seems to come from somewhere within me, outside of me and on a spiritual level. It’s a vibration, a pulse, a rhythm and sound wave that never stops. It’s like this frequency that continues on throughout the universe and somehow I manage to tap into it."

Sherman is also working on a composition for a 16-piece jazz orchestra. "I am working on that and a few different things presently. I am blessed to have ideas and be in a position to implement them. For instance, my latest CD is entitled "Faith." I wrote it right after 9/11. I wrote a piece entitled "Fight For Life." You have Faith but you also have to take control of your own destiny. Life isn’t easy but you have to win against the odds. You have to Fight For Life. After 9/11, I started feeling everything is going to be alright. My music says have faith. Stop worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow. Why fear. Enjoy the life you have since life is really about faith, no one knows what will happen from day-to-day." Sherman also mentions the other virtues -- Hope and Charity in his CD. "The song that touches me the most is "Charity." There are no solos in that song, everyone plays in harmony together as if we are one whole. It’s not so easy to do that, one has to have their ears open and be responsive to any kind of sound or vibration, whether it’s a plate dropping in the room or someone sneezing. You have to interplay off all the sounds and everyone has to be listening intensely at the same time so each is in harmony with the other," remarked Irby who played with the Boys Choir of Harlem in 1994.

"When I first came to New York, I started playing at Smalls. I was 26. I played with a lot of famous musicians at Smalls. I started playing gigs with Wynton Marsalis and Marcus Roberts and I learned a lot from them.

In 1995, Irby obtained the second alto chair with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra where he performed with the likes of Wessell Anderson. In 1996 and 1977, he became involved with the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program. He also worked with Ann-Hampton-Callaway at the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the New York Ballet. In 1997, he began performing with the Roy Hargrove Band and became part of the Grammy Award wining "Crisol" project. "Playing with Hargrove was one of the best experiences I have ever had," stated Sherman whose latest CD is #12 on the charts. "Being with those guys on the bandstand every night was wonderful. We toured 30 weeks out of the year and went everywhere in the world." Sherman formed his own quarter in 2000. He has been featured on numerous blues and R&B recordings and in 2003 became indoctrinated into the New Jersey organ scene. He formed Organomics an organ quartet and recorded the album entitled "Organ Starter" which features Fred McFarlane, Saul Rubin and Willie Jones, III. The recording is slated to come out in late January/ February of 2006. He also released two recordings on Blue Note, Full Circle and Big Mama’s Biscuits formerly. "It was amazing to play with these labels. For me to get a record deal as a relative unknown was surreal. Right now, Jazz musicians are going through a period of empowerment and taking more control of their own business interests. That is why I formed my own label Black Warrior Records. You know jazz makes up about 1% of the whole music industry, so jazz musicians get hit the worst during hard times. After September 11th people started staying home. However, little by little they are returning to the clubs. A lot of folks just haven’t had the money."

Married, Irby moved to New Jersey. "My wife Laura helps to influence my music. When you are happy things just start coming together. I wrote a song for her called Laura’s Love Song. Another was "Your Worth the Wait" said Irby who is also a teacher at the Jazz Masters Workshop, a workshop established to teach elementary children jazz and its history.

A very spiritual man, Irby believes in the African religion. "As a musician you are often exposed to a lot of different things and I had to deal with some personal demons that led to an epiphany" claimed Irby. "I believe my ancestors are looking after me and supporting me. I came to have the feeling that I am not alone out here. It’s more than a belief in God, it’s a connection to my family that has passed over and a sense they are there watching over me and my watching over my music."

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