Robert Irving III

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Robert Irving III
Robert Irving III
Background information
Born (1953-10-27) October 27, 1953 (age 62)
Origin Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Jazz, R&B
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, arranger, record producer
Instruments Keyboards
Years active 1979–present
Labels Verve Forecast Records, Sonic Portraits Entertainment

Robert Irving III (born October 27, 1953) is an American pianist, composer, arranger and music educator.

A native of Chicago, Irving was one of a group of young Chicago musicians that in the late '70s and early '80s formed the nucleus of Miles Davis' recording and touring bands. Irving left the Davis band in 1989, and has gone on to a prolific career as touring musician, composer, arranger, producer, educator and interdisciplinary artist. Irving has recently (with the 2007 release of New Momentum) resumed his career as a recording artist under his own name.

Early background[edit]

Irving's first musical instrument was the bugle, followed by a range of brass instruments including cornet, French horn, and valve trombone. While he was a brass player, Irving also studied piano to further his knowledge of musical theory.

Irving's family moved to North Carolina in 1969 and remained there until 1978. While in North Carolina, Irving continued his studies in musical theory, played trombone in concert bands, keyboards for pop/funk and fusion bands, and organ and piano for gospel groups. Hammond organ and keyboards became his primary instruments.

After returning to Chicago in 1978, Irving connected with a number of young musicians, including Vince Wilburn Jr. and Darryl Jones who would later join him in the Miles Davis band. These musicians formed a series of bands, including Data and AL7. In 1979, AL7 was invited by arranger/producer Tom Tom 84 to record some demo tapes for Maurice White (of Earth, Wind, & Fire).

The Miles Davis connection[edit]

In 1980, an Irving composition entitled Space was played for Wilburn's uncle, Miles Davis. Space captured Davis' interest, and led to Irving, Wilburn and their band being invited to New York for Davis' first recording sessions in several years.

The fruits of these sessions were included on the 1981 album, The Man with the Horn, the first recording Davis had released in six years. The title track, The Man With the Horn, was co-written and arranged by Irving, who also co-wrote and arranged another track titled Shout.

Returning to Chicago, Irving continued his composing, arranging, and producing; notably, working on albums for Ramsey Lewis (1981 and 1982), Randy Hall, and others.

Also, in 1982 Irving became musical director and pianist for the Kuumba Theater production of The Little Dreamer… a Nite in the Life of Bessie Smith and studied stride-piano with the legendary Little Brother Montgomery, who had composed music for the show.

Then, in 1983 Davis invited Irving to once again return to work with him as composer, arranger and co-producer.

The Davis–Irving collaborations[edit]

The initial Miles Davis–Robert Irving III collaboration resulted in the album Decoy. Irving then joined Davis' touring band, where he remained for five years, holding the keyboard chair and the role of musical director.

Notably, in the role of musical director, Irving was responsible for musical arrangements, rehearsals (which Davis never attended), and musical liaison between Davis and group members that included some of the leading musicians of the era, such as John Scofield, Bill Evans, Mike Stern, Kenny Garrett and Darryl Jones. In those roles, Irving listened to recordings of each night’s performance with Davis to cull what were spontaneous creative ideas … that then became a permanent part of the group’s musical arrangements. Some of that work is finely exhibited on The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux collection.

Irving also collaborated with Davis (as composer, producer and arranger) on the 1985 recording, You're Under Arrest. The album included Grammy-nominated covers of “Time After Time” and “Human Nature.”

While working on the material for You're Under Arrest, Irving added to his arranging credentials by studying with Gil Evans, who decades earlier had famously arranged some of Miles Davis’ most celebrated recordings.

Later, Irving extended this musical direction on projects such as his film score for the feature film Street Smart also with André Lassalle on guitar (1985), starring Morgan Freeman and Christopher Reeve—with Miles Davis as featured instrumentalist.

Irving remained with the Davis band until 1989, remaining close to Davis until Davis’ death in 1991.

Musician, bandleader, producer, composer, arranger[edit]

Since leaving the Davis band, Irving has been based in Chicago and has kept active on many musical fronts, continuing to develop as a pianist, arranger, composer and producer. He has performed, as leader and sideman, with a list of musicians that includes David Murray, Wallace Roney, Eddie Henderson, Lenny White, and fellow Miles Davis alumni Darryl Jones, Vince Wilburn Jr., and Al Foster. He has contributed to these settings as composer and arranger and pianist.

Irving released his first solo album in 1988, Midnight Dream, which featured John Scofield, Darryl Jones, Buddy Williams, André Lassalle and Phil Perry.

In addition, Irving recorded as leader and music director of the Davis alumni bands ESP and ESP2, on a number of David Murray albums, as a member of Khalil El Zabar's Juba Collective, and with Wallace Roney. He has produced albums for, among others, Terri Lyne Carrington (Real Life Story, 1990). In the Chicago community, Irving has taught and lectured at numerous schools, workshops and community events, and he founded Chicago's African Arts Ensemble (an 18-piece pan-African jazz group commissioned by the African Festival of the Arts).

Irving also composed the score for the George Tillman, Jr.'s 1995 feature film, Scenes for the Soul, and, composed for the Miami Chamber Symphony (Mademoiselle Mandarin, a concerto for jazz harp and orchestra, featuring Swiss harpist, Markus Klinko).

New Momentum[edit]

With the 2007 release of New Momentum on the Sonic Portraits Entertainment label, Irving has returned to recording under his own name. The CD was co-produced by Terri Lyne Carrington.

The CD is a Billboard Magazine "critics' choice" (highly recommended for musical merit).

An excerpt of a The Billboard Review article - April 7, 2007 (by Dan Ouellette):

Conspicuously absent as a leader since serving as Miles Davis’ fusion-oriented musical director in the ‘80s, Robert Irving III returns in dramatic fashion on “New Momentum,” the premiere release for indie Sonic Portraits.

The disc is largely an acoustic piano trio date, highlighted by Irving originals and two nods to his mentor’s ‘60s repertoire: a buoyant cover of Davis’ “Seven Steps to Heaven” and a refined take on Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti”.

What’s so remarkable about Irving’s return from obscurity is the fresh, vital sound, spurred by his pianistic dynamism, and infused with an imaginative improvisational approach that encompasses dancing tempo shifts and harmonic curves.

Bassist Buster Williams costars, with arco support on the ballad “Primordial Waters”, low-end punch to the title track and a walking bass conversation with Irving on the midtempo groove tune “Always . . . Sometimes”.

Irving is also a painter. When he was a member of Miles Davis’ band, Davis encouraged him to take up painting. Irving actually began painting regularly in 1997, and has seen his work exhibited in a number of galleries.


As leader[edit]

  • Midnight Dream (Polygram, 1990)
  • New Momentum (Sonic Portraits, 2006)

As sideman[edit]

With Miles Davis

  • The Man with the Horn (Columbia, 1981) - composer, arranger, keyboards, producer
  • Decoy (Columbia, 1984) - composer, arranger, keyboards, producer
  • You're Under Arrest (Columbia, 1985) - composer, arranger, keyboards, producer

With David Murray

  • 2011—Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnics featuring Nona Hendryx, It's Time – composer, arranger, producer, keyboards
  • 2002—Juba Collective (Kahil El'Zabar), Juba Collective—piano, organ, keyboards
  • 2002—Miles Davis, The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux—composer, arranger, keyboards
  • 1997—Wallace Roney, Village—keyboards
  • 1992—ESP, ESP (Robert Irving III, Darryl Jones, Bobby Broom, Kirk Whalum, Toby Williams) -- composer, arranger, keyboards, producer
  • 1991—Susan Osborne, Wabi (Nippon Music Award for Best Creative Concept) -- producer
  • 1989—Terri Lyne Carrington, Real Life Story (Grammy Award Nominee) -- producer


Cole, George, The Last Miles (University of Michigan Press 2005)

External links[edit]