Jun Iida • Courtesy

Jun Iida fell in love with music at a very young age. His mother, a semi-professional koto player, suffused their home with all manner of sounds, from Western classical music to Japanese folk songs.

“We always had classical music (Brahms, Mendelssohn, Sousa, etc.) playing around the house; [my mother] also taught us Japanese folk songs/children’s songs as a means to maintain our language,” wrote Iida in an email to the International Examiner.

Iida spent his formative years in St. Louis, Missouri, before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at age 10 — both cities are steeped in a rich history of jazz, R&B, and blues. This exposure to a varied mix of musical styles helped Iida develop a deep affinity for blues, jazz, and improvisatory music. Iida recalls asking his parents for two CDs when he was young, Louis Armstrong’s Hello, Dolly! and Ken Burns Jazz: Duke Ellington, the influences of which can still be heard in his music today.

“Growing up in this environment undoubtedly fueled my interest and passion for the art form, as well as helping to establish a deep respect and admiration for the history and tradition of this music,” he said.

Iida took up the trumpet at age nine and eventually honed his musical chops at both Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Music, before establishing his own sextet in Los Angeles in 2015. He gigged at many notable jazz clubs, theaters, and festivals, both as the leader of his sextet and as a sideman, before moving to the Pacific Northwest.

“The Seattle jazz scene has been a very rewarding and fulfilling experience! I came up in the midst of the pandemic, which was admittedly a difficult time to explore a new city’s music scene,” Iida said. “However once shows and venues started to open back up, I was met with open arms and was welcomed into a friendly and thriving jazz scene.”

Iida’s group, The Jun Iida Sextet, play a unique blend of classic jazz standards, his own compositions, and less conventional fare, creating a sound that is rooted in tradition but unafraid to stretch and blend those traditions in unique ways.

“I always like to include jazz standards, or music from the lineage of Black American Music. This is not only because I love and enjoy these tunes, but also to pay homage and respect to the legacy of this art form, which has so greatly affected my own music today,” he said. “Additionally, I am a firm believer that every individual’s musicality is formed by their unique experiences.”

Iida recently begun teaching jazz and improvisation to high school students at Mount Si and Roosevelt High Schools and at a semi-professional level to adults.

“When teaching musical concepts, whether it’s improvisation, trumpet pedagogy, or just musicality, you are forced to really distill the concept down to the most fundamental level, which in turn forces you to think about your understanding of said concept as well.”

Iida finds the art of improvisation at once liberating and challenging, and one gets the impression that it is this dichotomy that drives much of his passion for jazz and his particular creative spark. 

“An artist has complete freedom to create whatever they hear in the moment. At the same time, in order to have the facility and knowledge to create something that is artistic, cohesive, non-esoteric, honest, and creative, all in a split second, one must dedicate their life to truly studying this art form,” he said. 

One can hear Iida’s effervescent approach to improvisation in his casually cool and fluid playing style, landing somewhere between Miles Davis’ post-bop period and Chet Baker’s languid Southern California convertible ride breeziness. When supported by a group of like-minded and skilled colleagues, as with his sextet, the results are electrifying. 

Iida’s debut album, the name of which will be announced this fall, is set to release by Origin Records in January 2024. The album will include his own compositions, as well as some jazz standards and arrangements of popular songs, and will feature some of his favorite musicians and musical heroes from Seattle, New York City, and Los Angeles. He will tour in support of the album in early 2024, including some dates in Seattle, with more info on this due in late summer or early fall.

In the meantime, jazz fans can catch Iida and the rest of the Jun Iida Sextet on Thursday, July 13th at Columbia City’s Royal Room, where he’ll debut original compositions and arrangements, joined by local players Marina Albero on keys, Xavier LeCouturier on drums, Jay Thomas on flute, Martin Budde on guitar, and Trevor Ford on bass.

The Jun Iida Sextet plays The Royal Room in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood on Thursday, July 13, 2023 starting at 7:30 (PDT). Advance tickets at Stranger Tickets before 3pm the day of the show or at the door. All ages until 10pm but minors can remain outside the bar area. 5000 Rainier Ave. S. 206-906-9920.

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