Four outstandingly talented and accomplished women have joined forces to exhibit their expert compositions in a brand new collection.
Their history of empowerment and trailblazing begins over 30 years ago, when they began under the name Phlegm Fatale. Later, they changed to the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet in honor of, and with the family’s permission of, the transgender piano star who lived life as a man in order to succeed in the 1930s through 70s music scene. Now, having shortened their name, the women are pushing the boundaries of music in a way Billy could not in that time: by being proudly female and proving they are equally as powerful and skillful.
Wabi Sabi is a Japanese saying that roughly translates to “find beauty and take pleasure in the imperfect.” That message must surely relate to a way of living life, not the content of the music, since these professionals more than prove their mastery. Still, the recordings embody that fearlessly creative spirit by encompassing the joy and unity felt when playing live, even while expertly delivering these intricate pieces.
And with The Tiptons, no two songs are the same. The unique influence and style of each member can be heard track to track, pulling inspiration from all over the world and touching on genres from traditional African-American field hollers to jazz rock. Every arrangement is a beautiful demonstration of their decades of hard work and experience. Emotionally riveting “Working Song” is a welcome contrast to the cheerful “A Sparkley Con,” while “Torquing of the Spheres” follows a stop-and-go cycle mirroring a turbulent car ride they shared while touring in Europe from which they drew the inspiration for the song.
The resumes of these women are also worth noting. Founding member Amy Denio (alto sax, clarinet, vocals) was inducted into the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame in 2015 and has run her own label, Spoot Music, since 1986. Jessica Laurie (soprano/alto/tenor sax, vocals), who joined in 1992, has her own label as well: Zipa!Music. Tenor saxophonist and vocalist Sue Orfield was voted “Best Horn” by the Washington Blues society for five years spanning 1999-2004. Their newest member, Tina Richerson (baritone sax, vocals) won “Overall Instrumental Soloist” at the 1997 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival before earning her Masters of Music at the University of Washington, where she met her fellow Tiptons in 2004.
One thing that sets apart this quartet from other saxophone groups is their inclusion of other instruments, particularly their own voices. “All sax all the time can get tedious,” Denio explains. “And I think that’s why we added drums later too, adding a groove to inspire different colors and add dynamic. We’re always interested in expanding our sphere.” Vocal additions, including a yodeling deconstruction, can be heard on tracks “December’s Dance,” “Root Dance,” and “Moadl Joadl,” delivered with as much rhythmic dynamics and precision as their horns.
To add this percussion to their songs, they enlist the help of Austrian drummer Robert Kainar—with a label of his own, Sowiesound—for much of their European touring, while turning to Seattle-based Tarik Abouzied for some of their States-based work.
The group’s lively and soulful performances have been described as, “dynamic, playful concerts [which] feature high-energy interaction between members, and a repertoire that touches on soulful music from around the world.”