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.”