“In my travels, I am exposed to hundreds of saxophonists every year. Ian Rapien is by far the most unique saxophonist I have heard in several years”, says Smooth-Jazz best-selling recording artist Walter Beasley. “In addition to his incredible delivery his compositions are equally impressive. In my opinion Ian represents the best of the new young musicians poised to take instrumental music to the next level.”
After hearing Ian Rapien play the saxophone, most people find it hard to believe that he is only 24. Ian grew up in Anaheim, California, an extremely vibrant music scene for numerous genres including Rock, Rap, and DJ based dance music styles, all of which would go on to influence him in ways he would never have dreamed when first concentrated on the study of jazz.
Rapien started playing the alto saxophone at age 10 in the elementary school music program, continuing with the program through high school. Displaying exceptional talent at an early age, Ian was invited to partake in numerous honor groups, most notably the All Southern California High School Jazz All Stars, taking the first Tenor Saxophone chair at the age of 16. Upon completion of high school, he started at the Berklee College of Music in 2000 on a merit-based scholarship.
While at Berklee, a school renowned for enormous musical resources, Ian had the opportunity to play in all the top bands, while studying with world renowned musicians such as Joe Lovano, Kenny Garrett, Walter Beasley, Tiger Okoshi, and George Garzone. At the end of his berklee career, Ian was awarded the woodwind achievement award, given to a woodwind student who displays outstanding talent, and best represents the department inside and outside the school.
“[Spectrums] blur the lines between jazz, electronica, progressive rock, and jam-band styles, making the piece sound like a cross between Miles Davis, Bela Bleck and the Flecktones, and the Dave Mathews Band”(Jazziz Magazine). Always in search of creating new forms of expression, Rapien created his group Spectrums in 2002, envisioning a new brand of jazz that could excite both jazz musicians and those newer to the idiom. The plan? To fuse contemporary genres such as electronica, rock and hip hop- the styles he was exposed to early in his native southern California- with jazz and funk, all to be performed by a quartet comprised of the brightest young jazz musicians on the scene today. Having always been fascinated with sound effects stemming from rock and electronic music, Ian added electronics to his saxophone upon the creation of Spectrums to further stretch the surreal soundscapes Spectrums produces. The final result has had audiences at their feet at every venue, from the average bars with the average Joe to the most legit jazz clubs with musically sophisticated audiences.
How is the best way to hear Ian play? Ian performs in the New England area in countless groups, which have included performances on stage with Telarc Recording artist Hiromi, Smooth Jazz Legend Walter Beasley, percussionist Eguie Castrillo (Arturo Sandoval, Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera), and drummer Kenwood Denard (Maceo Parker, Wayne Shorter), and an opening with Spectrums for guitarist John Scofield. Ian has also appeared on several recordings, including the vocal jazz sensation Syncopation’s debut release “A New Dance”, Warr Guitarist Kai Kurosawa’s “Doubts”, and Paul Im and Remember Rockefeller’s “Lightness of My Being”. While at the school, Ian was also featured in the October 2003 collegiate issue of Jazziz Magazine, highlighting twelve of the brightest jazz musicians in the country. He also appeared on the first release of Berklee’s new jazz label, Jazz Revelation Records, appearing three times (one of which with Spectrums)- more than any other musician at the school.
While having accomplished so much at an early age, Rapien remains humble. Never one to remain on his haunches, Ian is thankful for the opportunities he has had, but is always in search to improve.
I believe that in the world of music, jazz musicians have created their own isolationist country. As artists, we are always striving to push the art forward, and in the case of jazz, that has meant increasingly (with a few exceptions) that difficulty equals quality. I remember having a discussion in high school with my father about a certain artist playing in 13/4 (7 plus 6). As a former isolationist, I tried to convince my father that it made sense. "It's incredibly hard to play in that meter; they blur the bar lines; they have amazing technique, " you would hear me say in my naïve, confident tone. But my father insisted that it doesn't matter, that he could appreciate the talent, but cannot find its beauty. I'd like to say that I argued amazingly and brought up earth-shattering points, but that wasn't the case. Not only did I not change his mind, but these discussions ultimately ended up planting the first anti-isolationist seeds that would go on to sprout a few years later.
My dad was correct. If you don't train yourself to hear and understand breakneck-speed lines in meters that sound awkward to anybody who doesn't have two left feet, you will never think that what we've created sounds good. If we could refrain from listening to music as if we were studying a crossword puzzle, and forget that we are jazz musicians, we would realize that this kind of music only sounds good to us because we study it. I have no interest in attending a nuclear physics seminar because I do not comprehend the language and vernacular they use. Similarly, customers of Borders Books generally do not choose to engross themselves in quantum physics problem sets over their Cosmopolitan magazines and Starbucks cappuccinos.
I created Spectrums with all of these ideas bouncing through my mind. We fuse styles that people are familiar with, can relate to, and can get excited about, presented in the jazz idiom. When writing tunes for the band, I strive to convey a message concisely and grabs the ear that people can go home singing and revisiting. I can honestly say that I am playing with three of the most talented and exploratory musicians in the country, and this is our secret to exciting the audience - anybody can completely relate to the energy, and can enjoy watching the band interacting together and looking like we're doing what we love to do. The proof is that we have yet to play a performance where our audience doesn't scream at a few points. I would summarize Spectrums as a band creating a style of jazz where the main points are high energy, accessibility, great musicianship, and more importantly the sheer love of music and the cry of the human spirit reign.
I have been a recovering isolationist for two years and going strong. I continue to love jazz. I listen to it for pleasure, and study its intricacies everyday. Now however, I'm no longer embarrassed to tell my friends that I listen to Dave Mathews as much as I listen to Joshua Redman. I understand their drastically difference influences. Since I'm on such an honesty binge, I'll admit it- I still listen to that Greenday album that we all secretly love.
Playing in 13/4 is like walking a high wire tight rope, except the stakes are too small. If you fall, there isn't an audience there to care if you don't make it. If a tree falls in a forest, of course it makes a sound. There's just no one there to hear it. The same is true of the jazz isolationist tightrope walker as he abruptly hits the pavement. To my fellow jazz musicians, I say let us save the circus rope acts and stop isolating ourselves. We can play music that people can appreciate, and we can go outside our infinitely minute holes of practice rooms, make some friends, and enjoy daylight. If the isolationists don't get their acts together soon, the US won't be flying over third world countries to drop supplies to the starving- they'll be flying over Manhattan.