Story by Sam Whiting, San Francisco Chronicle
When Tommy Igoe migrated from New York City to Mill Valley, the first thing he did was soundproof a back bedroom for a recording studio. The second thing he did was assemble 15 crack session men for the Tommy Igoe Big Band. It plays every Monday night at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, with Igoe, 47, as bandleader and drummer.
On the legacy: My father was Sonny Igoe, a very well-known big band drummer in the swing era. He played with Benny Goodman, Woody Herman. He wanted me to be a dentist or anything but a musician. But there was no keeping me away from it.
On the concept: We’re trying to create an event at the Rrazz Room, not just another band. The Bay Area is full of amazing musicians. Throw them together in a pot, put 15 of them up onstage in a traditional big band format, but don’t play the traditional literature, the stuff we all know. This band looks forward, not backward. We’re going to make our statement in the 21st century, and invite people in.
On the talent: Tom Politzer, saxophone from Tower of Power, Mark Russo, also on sax, from the Doobie Brothers. Jeff Cressman from Santana plays trombone. Eric Crystal, who plays saxophone, is in Boz Scaggs’ band.
On the backstory: I have a band in New York that I created six years ago. It has become the most popular weekly jazz event in New York, at Birdland. I had everything I wanted. The Birdland Big Band was my crown jewel. Then my wife got a job at Google, and we decided to blow it all up and move out here.
On the front story: We want to do a residency. If you want to have a popular event, you can’t do one-offs. No one can remember that. It has to be predictable and dependable, and it has to be on the same night every week. We picked Monday because that night makes the most sense for the club. Also all the shows are dark Monday nights. All the musicians are free, and it’s a perfect opportunity to create something on a weekly basis.
On the show: I don’t hire musicians who need to be led. I studied classical and jazz piano for 20 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.
On the set: It’s a 90-minute show, 7:30 to 9. Set ‘em up, knock ‘em down, blow ‘em out, bring ‘em back. We will play between nine and 11 numbers a night depending on how long the solos go.
On the price: Tickets are $25. We’re committed to keeping it reasonable because we think we have something special going.
On the buzz: It started in April. The first week we were there we had eight people, and last Monday we had well over 100.
On the competition: Nobody else is doing it the way I’m doing it, anywhere on the planet. San Francisco hasn’t seen anything like this, and the Rrazz Room is committed to making it happen. There are 15 stars up there. That’s how much talent is in the band.
On the ceiling: I don’t know how far it can go. This is uncharted territory. We have an incredibly rabid base with an art form that should be dead.