Photo credit: Kayla Childs

Hiruy Tirfe is a distinguished saxophonist, musician, composer, arranger, educator, and film scorer hailing from the vibrant musical landscape of Philadelphia. His career includes working with some of the most recognised names across several genres, including Patti LaBelle, Wyclef Jean, Solange Knowles and Robin Eubanks. We caught up to discuss his career, debut album ’10,000 hours’ and advice for budding musicians and students at Benslow.

Hiruy, thank you for speaking to Benslow Music. Please tell our readers more about you and what drew you to a career in music.

I’m a saxophonist, musician, band leader, musical director, composer, arranger, film scorer and educator from Philadelphia, PA. What drew me to this career was simply being inspired by the community to creatives - my generation as well as the elders.

You spent your formative years at Upper Darby public schools and taking courses at the Kimmel Center for Creative Music. Can you tell us more about these institutions and how they prepared you for a music career?

I just remember being surrounded by serious creatives when I attended Upper Darby. We’d just be in the music wing consistently and just staying in the shed. People like Eric Whatley, Josh Thomas, Benjamin St. Fort (now known as BYNX), Immanuel Wilkins, Yesseh Furaha-Ali, Marlon Lewis kept me inspired and we would spend countless hours before/after school in the shed as well as just hanging with each other. I really learned from them because they just always had a high level of musicianship, even at the young age they were. Upper Darby High School at the time could have just been called Upper Darby High School For The Creative And Performing Arts. Then going to the Kimmel Center Youth Jazz Ensemble (now called the Creative Music Program) and studying with Marc Johnson and Anthony Tidd just took my studies, playing, and musicianship as a whole to a higher level.

The musicians at the Kimmel Center were just as amazing, including the likes of Dahi Divine, Justin Faulkner, Austin Marlow, Nazir Ebo, and Raymond Long. The masterclass series that the education program curated was amazing. I remember the first masterclass I attended as a student was saxophonist Javon Jackson and legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb. It was great learning from them both and having Jimmy Cobb talk about recording the legendary “Kind Of Blue” album with Miles Davis. Most times the Kimmel Center box office would give the students of their education programs free tickets to the concerts they curated so from studying with Javon Jackson and Jimmy Cobb to then, 8 hours later, seeing them in concert was just absolutely phenomenal. I give a lot of credit to those music educators that invested a lot of time and energy to students like myself, those that were mentioned and beyond.

You studied under the mentorship of top-tier jazz musicians residing in Philadelphia, including Mike Cemprola, Mark Allen, and John Swana. Tell us more about this experience.

Attending the University of The Arts was great because you were literally in the main street of the city. All the artists and creatives were walking up and down Broad Street. I could be a part of a music and arts community at large. Cemprola, Allen, and Swana were very in-demand musicians. I recall seeing them on a vast number of different projects from Terrell Stafford’s Jazz Orchestra Of Philadelphia, Fresh Cut Orchestra, solo projects of their own, etc. Cemprola, I specifically remember not just being an amazing educator/player but he was also a gentleman who looked out for me in a majority of ways. He was also an individual who always practised what he preached. Cemprola even gave me my first job while I was in school. Swana is a legendary Philadelphian so having time with him was just remarkable.

As a young student of music, what did you learn the most about becoming a professional musician?

The biggest thing was simply just don’t get ready, but just BE ready. Once you’re well prepared and you are consistently put in situations to perform on a high level before you know it your career will just take off.

You’ve collaborated with many recognized musicians across the genres. Is there a particular performance or collaboration you’re most proud of, and if so, why?

What’s crazy is that 98% of the time I get the call to work for those artists I’d always find myself as the youngest musician on stage/in the studio. Seriously, the youngest guy in Patti’s band. Youngest guy in The Roots all the times I’ve worked with them. Youngest in Chill Moody’s band. It goes on. Considering I was the youngest, I was surrounded by a lot of elders in the industry but also just life and I would just to all the guys and learn how to make the right steps towards being successful and living right. Working with The Roots really made my career full circle.

Working with The Roots was always a blast. When I was a teenager on the 4th of July, they would curate the “Wawa Welcome America 4th Of July Jam'' which was a free show to the public and The Roots would do a set up front of their songs and then just support all of the special guest artist that was booked for the respective show which was inspiring for me to see. Seeing that show from year to year, I’ve seen them support Earth, Wind and Fire, Michael McDonald, Estelle, Jill Scott, Common, Lauryn Hill, and a BUNCH of other artists. Those 4th Of July shows were really the “light switch” for me to take this as serious as possible and do whatever it takes to A- make this career happen, and B-Work with The Roots at some point in the future. Fast forward 10 years and I can be seen on NPR Tiny Desk with them and at some festivals such as the “Telluride Blues and Brews’.

Your album "10,000 Hours," is scheduled for a worldwide release on January 26th. Please tell us more about the project and what audiences should expect.

10,000 Hours has been in the making for about two years, from writing the music, rehearsing the band, performing the music in public before going to the studio, choosing all the featured artists, recording, mix, masters, promotion, you name it. Every part of this record is Philly, from the musicians, artists, engineers, studios, etc. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The listener can expect a very close and personal story about myself and my career. They will even have opportunities to self-reflect and think about how the 10,000 Hours theory relates to them.

The album features collaborations with trombonist Aaron Goode, vocalist Mare, and spoken word artist Ciara Chantelle. How difficult was it to collate this ensemble of both different and accomplished artists?

Wasn’t difficult at all. Collaboration with all three of those artists was one of the highlights of this album process. I call every single one of them a close friend of mine and it’s an honour to have relationships with these three guest artists (as well as all the musicians stated earlier) outside of the music. I believe that’s what makes this music come to life. Regarding the guest artists, I picked each of them simply because there was always a point of us working together on other projects and/or playing together at jam sessions and we would always talk about working together and stuff like that so I’m glad myself and the three of them made it happen. They are some of the best people on the planet not just artistically but just as lovely human beings.

As a professional musician, what have been your career challenges, and how have you overcome them?

I can’t really point out a particular instance in which I found to be challenging but all in all, I would say when creatives like myself get into their own head about things and continue to compare themselves to those around them. I talk about this in my liner notes. I feel as though comparing yourself to others can internally diminish your own value and integrity. The same time you spent on comparing can be used to make your art as great and as true to you as possible. Create your own lane, once you’ve built your own lane there is hardly any traffic.

Benslow Music provides inspirational lifelong learning for all ages. What advice would you give to budding musicians, particularly young students of music?

I have a lot of parents ask me this same question especially when their son/daughter is considering taking their art to a collegiate level and/or professional career as a whole. First and foremost, always go where the creatives are at. Build those relationships. Learn the business of this whole industry and take your artistic branding as seriously as your art itself. Continue to learn and always listen.

What other projects are you working on?

I’m in the process of writing for album number two! Also, in the process of developing the Studio Wednesdays album which for those that know, Studio Wednesday was a jam session I curated for two years at Silk City (home of Back2Basics) in Philadelphia. That session was a strictly creative atmosphere as no cover songs/jazz standards were performed and I recorded every single night! I’ll sit down and pick and choose those songs that the Studio Wednesday House Band will record and decide on the artist we’ll have on it as well. That project will be something special. As a supporting musician, I have a few projects soon to be released with Chill Moody, Keith Phelps, Kayla Childs, Steve McKie, Gerald Veasley and a few others. The future is looking really bright and I’m excited.

Where can we find out more about you?

The readers and find me on my website! www.hiruytirfe.org They can find my artist page on Facebook; Hiruy Tirfe Artist Page. They can follow my Instagram page; @hiruy_tirfe26.