Born on November 15, 1970, in Anaheim, CA; married Assif Tsahar, 1992 (divorced, 1999); married Roberto Rodriguez. Education: Attended Sarah Lawrence College; Mannes College of Music, music diploma; Goddard College, bachelor of arts degree. Addresses: Website--Susie Ibarra Official Website: http://www.susieibarra.com. Publicist--Two Show Media, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Eemail@example.com.
Although she began playing drums as a teenager, Susie Ibarra set out to study visual arts when she entered college. A fateful encounter with legendary bandleader, keyboard player, and experimentalist Sun Ra and his group Arkestra led Ibarra back to music. Today she is a highly sought-after percussionist, playing with a variety of avant-garde jazz and rock artists, including Pauline Oliveros, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Guillermo Scott Herren of Prefuse 73, and Savath and Savalas, in addition to her own ensembles. Ibarra has also begun to develop her talents as a composer, collaborating with poet Yusef Komunyaaka on two operas and developing scores for the Kronos Quartet and Chinese filmmaker Yan Jin.
Ibarra was born on November 15, 1970, in Anaheim, California, and grew up in Seabrook, Texas, near Houston. Her parents, both doctors, immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in the 1950s. The elder Ibarras insisted on piano lessons for all their children, although Susie is the only one in the family to continue in music professionally. "I get my musicality from my father," she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. "He plays piano by ear. He just has great rhythm. My appreciation and exposure I get from my mother. She was never a musician but she always loved music. I was always around music and art."
Exposed mainly to the popular music of the 1980s, as well as jazz and traditional Filipino music, Ibarra took up the drums after seeing a local band play an outdoor concert. "The drummer looked like he was having so much fun. And I thought, 'I want to do that,'" Ibarra told The Wire. "I talked to my parents, and my mother said, 'OK, I'll make a deal with you, we'll split the cost of the kit.'" Ibarra joined a punk band a short time later, and also continued her piano studies and played organ at her church.
After high school, Ibarra studied drawing and painting at the Glassel School of Art in Houston and Otis Parsons Art Institute in Los Angeles before enrolling in the art program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Early in her college career, she attended a Sun Ra Arkestra concert in New York City, and immediately decided to turn her attention back to the drums. She approached Arkestra drummer Buster Smith after the performance, and soon began taking lessons from him. Smith exposed Ibarra to a broad range of percussion styles, and taught her to transcribe drum solos. She dropped out of Sarah Lawrence to pursue her percussion studies full-time, taking up gamelan and kulintang gong in addition to the drums. Her first gigs in New York City were with a gamelan ensemble that played in Central Park, at the Metropolitan Museum, and at world music concerts. She also began studying with jazz drummers Vernel Fournier and Milford Graves. She eventually received a music diploma from Mannes College of Music as well as a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard College.
Ibarra began to make a name for herself when she sat in for drummer Joey Baron in avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn's group, Masada. She formed a musical duo with saxophonist Assif Tsahar, and in 1992 the two were also married (they divorced in 1999). In 1993 she began playing in various ensembles with bassist William Parker, including his 28-piece The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, which also featured Tsahar. In 1996 Ibarra also joined saxophonist David S. Ware's free jazz quartet, and played with them for the next three years.
During this time Ibarra and Tsahar also formed their own record label, Hopscotch. The label's first release was Home Cookin', a 1998 recording of duets by the pair. That same year Ibarra released Drum Talk on the Wobbly Rail label, a live recording with mentor Denis Charles. Ibarra formed a trio with pianist and harpist Cooper Moore and violinist Charles Burnham, serving as its composer and leader. The group released Radiance on Hopscotch in 1999. The album exhibits both avant-garde principles and traditional Filipino percussion styles. "It's title track is a languorous and gorgeous composition in three movements that wouldn't be out of place in a Manila drawing room," noted The Wire's Dave Mandl. "Led by Burnham's woody violin and Ibarra's cool-headed metalwork, the disc exudes Zen-like placidity, with judicious use of space and 'air.'" Ibarra released Flower After Flower on Zorn's Tzadik label in 2000. The album features the trio from Radiance, plus Tsahar and Chris Speed on woodwinds, Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, and Pauline Oliveros on accordion. Mandl noted that the recording is subdued, but that the track "Human Beginnings" is "reminiscent of Sun Ra's more 'out' excursions, circa Heliocentric Worlds." That same year, Ibarra also appeared on indie rock group Yo La Tengo's LP And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.
Ibarra formed a new trio with pianist Craig Taborn and violinist Jennifer Choi for her next recording, Songbird Suite, released on Tzadik in 2002. That same year she released Black Narcissus with the ensemble Mephista on the same label, featuring pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and electronic musician Ikue Mori. In 2003 Ibarra released Tone Time with bassist Mark Desser on Wobbly Rail, and in 2004 her trio released Folkloriko, while Mephista released Entomological Reflections, both on Tzadik. Trumpeter Smith and drummer Roberto Rodriguez, now Ibarra's second husband, appear as guest artists on Folkloriko.
Ibarra has continued to pursue her studies of traditional Filipino percussive instruments and styles, and has studied kulintang music with Donongan "Danny" Kalanduyan, both in San Francisco and in the Philippines. With Rodriguez, she formed Electric Kulintang, which melds traditional instruments with electronic dance rhythms. "It has beats, electronics and stuff, but also a lot of percussion and drum kit and vocals," Ibarra explained to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. "It's more contemporary. I think in the sense that it has beats and grooves ... it's accessible, but it's not obvious." Ibarra and Rodriguez have also formed Mundos Ninos to teach music to children. In addition, Ibarra collaborated with poet Yusef Komunyakaa on the opera Shangri-La, which is set in Thailand and focuses on sex trafficking and AIDS. They are working on a second opera, about African-American soldiers who defected to the Philippine Army during the Philippine-American War. She is working on scores for the Kronos Quartet and for filmmaker Yan Jin as well.
Throughout her career, Ibarra has worked to raise the visibility of experimental female musicians. In 1999 she curated a series of performances by women-led ensembles at the New York nightclub Tonic. "Lots of people talk about how art reflects life, but if jazz is art, how can it reflect life if only men are playing it?," she asked rhetorically in a 1999 interview with David Yaffe of the New York Times. Ibarra has also tried to set the record straight about the much-misunderstood genre with which she is most often associated. "People often misinterpret this music and think that 'free jazz' or 'free anything' is loud noise or coming from anger," she told Yaffe. "But the music I play has emerged from 40 years of studied development, certainly in terms of drum conception. True 'freedom' can only come from discipline."
by Kristin Palm
Susie Ibarra's Career
Joined punk band while still in high school and played in gamelan and kulintang gong ensembles, early 1990s; played with bassist William Parker, 1993-98, and saxophonist David S. Ware, 1996-99; formed duo with saxophonist Assif Tsahar and released Home Cookin' on their jointly run label, Hopscotch, 1998; formed trio with pianist Cooper Moore and violinist Charles Burnham, released Radiance on Hopscotch, 1999; released Flower after Flower with augmented trio, on Tzadik label, 2000; formed new trio with pianist Craig Taborn and violinist Jennifer Choi; formed Mephista with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and electronic musician Ikue Mori, 2002; formed electric kulintang with percussionist Roberto Rodriguez; continued to play with a variety of avant-garde and rock artists, including Pauline Oliveros, Mark Dresser, Guillermo Scott Herren and Yo La Tengo.
- Selected discography
- (With Denis Charles) Drum Talk (live), Wobbly Rail, 1998.
- (With Assif Tsahar) Home Cookin' Hopscotch, 1998.
- Radiance Hopscotch, 1999.
- Flower After Flower Tzadik, 2000.
- Hints on Light and Shadow Postcards, 1997.
- Songbird Suite Tzadik, 2002.
- (With Mephista) Black Narcissus Tzadik, 2002.
- (With Mark Dresser) Tone Time Wobbly Rail, 2003.
- Folkloriko Tzadik, 2004.
- (With Mephista) Entomological Reflections Tzadik, 2004.
- New York Times, May 30, 1999.
- Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 16, 2005.
- The Wire, June 2002.
- "Susie Ibarra," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 10, 2005).
- "Susie Ibarra," Grove Online, http://www.groveonline.com (May 10, 2005).
- Susie Ibarra Official Website, http://www.susieibarra.com (May 17, 2005).