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Alto Powerhouse Mike DiRubbo Talks Sound, Self Confidence, and Sequences

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Mike DiRubbo
Those of us familiar with Mike DiRubbo's fiery brand of no-nonsense improvised flights of fancy can attest to the fact that he's a major player in the jazz saxophone game. With shades of Kenny Garret, Jackie McLean, and John Coltrane, DiRubbo's alto speaks in a distinctly powerful voice that's at the same time modern and timeless.

Traveling the globe as both a leader and a sideman, Mike has appeared in jazz epicenters such as the JVC Jazz Festival in NYC, the Jazz, Blues and Videotape festival in Tel Aviv, Ferrara Jazz in Italy, Smalls, and the 55 Bar, plus loads more. Among his stellar cast of collaborators are heavy hitters such as Eddie Henderson, Harold Mabern, John Hicks, Carl Allen, Peter Washington, Eric Alexander, Brian Lynch, Peter Bernstein, and Ralph Bowen.

Besides having put out seven CDs as a leader, DiRubbo has been featured in articles, reviews, and interviews in outlets such as Saxophone Journal, Jazz Times, Downbeat, and All About Jazz.

And keeping the fire burning for jazz' next generation, Mike has served in a teaching capacity at institutions such as SUNY Purchase in NY, William Patterson University, New York University, the Jackie McLean Institute, and the New School in NYC.

The Interview

Doron Orenstein: What was it that inspired you to make music your life?

Mike DiRubbo: A combination of the joy of playing and realizing that I could get paid to play back when I was in high school.

DO: What do you find yourself practicing the most these days?

MD: I'm working on incorporating sequences and patterns into my playing. Overall adding more and more vocabulary. I think at this point in my development I can make this kind of stuff sound musical without risking being too robotic and keep it in the moment.

DO: What have you been listening to lately?

MD: The great part about living in NYC, is I can go out any night and hear something new. It's easy to stay inspired when there are so many great musicians around. Most recently I'm checking out Monk more closely and I'm really into an LP version of Holst's “Planets" by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a CD by pianist Alice Sara Ott of Chopin's complete waltzes.

DO: What would you say is the skill or attribute that's helped you the most as a musician?

MD: Probably first my sound and then self-confidence. I work on both of those every day.

DO: What's the single best piece of advice you've been given over the course of your playing career?

MD: From my good friend, trombonist Steve Davis: “Don't let anyone else define who you are."

DO: Can you share a one of the most memorable highlights from your career?

MD: A weekend at Sweet Rhythm here in NYC with David Hazeltine's Quintet with David Williams on bass and Jimmy Cobb. I've been blessed to play with some great drummers thus far but that weekend with Jimmy Cobb was special. I was feeling good for months after that weekend. Also anytime I've gotten to play with Harold Mabern.

DO: What's the next musical frontier for Mike DiRubbo?

MD: I have many ideas about instrument combinations for new projects. I think at some point you might see a larger ensemble with more composition involved. I want to explore my writing more.

DO: For those new to your music, which recording would you suggest they pick up?

MD: I'm always biased to my most recent project. That would be Four Hands, One Heart, a duo with pianist Larry Willis and I. Also, buying that project helps support me and my new label, Ksanti Records.

DO: What's your saxophone equipment setup?

MD: I have two altos, an RS Berkeley Virtuoso (which I endorse) and a Mark VI 220xxx vintage with no high F#. I'm also a Vandoren Saxophone Artist and I'm playing on a Jumbo Java A45 with #2 V16 reeds with either the leather ligature or gold plated M/O ligature. My soprano is an RS Berkeley with a metal Otto Link 8* that I bought new in the '90's with 2 ½ Vandoren blue box reeds.

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