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Tiptons Saxophone Quartet comes 'home' to preview new album

The Tiptons saxophone quaret: (l-r: Jessica Lurie, Amy Denio, Sue Orfield, Tina Richerson)
Melanie Gribinski
Tiptons Saxophone Quartet

The Tiptons Saxophone Quartet and Drums was formed in Seattle in 1988. Now with only Amy Denio still based in the Puget Sound area, the Tiptons roll on. A new album is due in March, and with their performance in the KNKX studios, the Tiptons showed they're at the top of their game.

Originally the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, the band was named for a jazz musician who was born female but lived their life as a man in order to pursue a musical career in the 1940s and 50s. In taking their name, the Tiptons honor a courageous person who followed their own path. Much as this band does, musically.

This current, long-running edition of the band includes Denio, Jessica Lurie, Sue Orfield and Tina Richerson, plus their Austrian friend Robert Kainar behind the drums. The group has always noted their sense of rhythm as a strength, and appreciate a drummer with a wide musical palette. Kainar even showed off some new unorthodox "pots and pans" percussion toys the band bought for him at a thrift store.

Denio told us that at their beginning, the band was playing classical music charts. "We played a lot of classical music. Then I heard the Kronos Quartet doing 'Purple Haze' and I thought, 'why not try that?'" They started rearranging modern pop songs, eventually bringing their own compositional voices to the fore — all via saxophones.

Along with influences from classical and folk music from around the world, the Tiptons find inspiration from the great saxophone sections of the jazz big band swing era. Richerson says she grew up with a love of big bands and finds "freedom in limits. To only work with four voices is a super fun challenge. I like to write big band music for the quartet. It's so much fun!" Lurie chimes in, "We're a micro-big band!"

Due in March, their new album Wabi Sabi was named for a Japanese term about seeing the beauty in imperfection. Sue Orfield says, "in the most loving way, we're not perfect. But also, there's just something so beautiful about when we play."

Over more than 30 years, with a few years haitus in the middle, the Tiptons sound better than ever. And though they live far apart, these women keep returning to this band. Orfield told us they just have a great chemistry. "We're four very different saxophone players and very different composers. All these years later we still get together... filled with joy to play music together. It's a blast every single time."

We had a blast with the Tiptons Saxophone Quartet and Drums in the KNKX studios, and around the world we think you will too when you check out this studio session.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.