Reaching Deep Down: Saxophonist Lolo Irving

lolo irving 2

Against a backdrop of city sirens that open the piece “Blue Prelude” Lolo Irving springs into a high dive and hits her target with a sax that cries out with increasingly assertive statements. What a way to grab your face and drench you with music on this first track of her CD “No Limit.” Funkier and with an undeniable rhythmic pull is “Golden Symphony” with a swingin’ brass section and a thick overlay of sassy note-bending. Her arrangement of “In a Sentimental Mood” stands alone as the ultimate smoky-jazz-club number and features flawless, sultry brushwork.

A sax player originally from France, Irving now inhabits Chicago with its vibrant jazz scene, and she’s at work on a new project. She can play this thing, craft a hook and make the music pop with beauty. Not much more is required.

Why did you gravitate to the sax?

Because I like Coltrane’s sound.
What’s the first jazz you remember hearing and how did it feel to listen to it?

Miles Davis. It was like listening from space.

What did your early training consist of?


How do you know when you are performing and ‘in the pocket’ with the other musicians?

I can feel it.

Talk about your first paying gig.

I was 20 years old playing with my mentor.

What does it feel like when you solo?

What do you like best about the jazz scene in Chicago?


Name your most enjoyable collaboration to date.

George Clinton.

How would you compare the jazz audiences in Paris to those in Chicago?

The audiences in Chicago really appreciate jazz.

What was the best thing you learned from the Sorbonne?


What do you do harmonically or rhythmically to break out of a rut?

I’m going in the opposite direction. Doing something off the wall.

Why are you involved in Jazz Camp and what do you see is the prognosis for youngsters becoming appreciators of jazz or musicians themselves?

Because young musicians already have the future in their hands.

What was the most fun of composing or producing the 2016 “No Limit”?

I loved doing a new arrangement on Bob Marley’s song “Waiting in Vain.”

Your most recent project?

For my next album, I will feature the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

How did you meet your band members and what are their strengths?

At the Chicago Jazz Festival. We have good energy together. Their youth is their strength. 

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Finishing my next album.

What would you say to all the jazz artists out there?

Stay focused. Keep making music.

For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Lolo Irving.
(c) Debbie Burke 2019


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