TCU graduate releases jazz album with colleagues

By: 
Jarrod Schoenecker

Submitted photo

Austyn Menk

Austyn Menk, a 2016 graduate of Tri-City United High School and Le Center native, is releasing a jazz album with some of his colleagues on May 3.

The self-titled album, “IRIS,” is the first release of the professional jazz quintet out of the Chicago area. If the band’s name sounds familiar, it may be because the past two years of TCU’s Jazz Fest, they have been the featured professional group that played and also did workshops with the TCU High School students.

“There’s so much good happening at TCU. I think that TCU is unique amongst school districts in the way that they are forward thinking and student centered,” said Menk. “To be a part of that mission in sharing with students, that might not have access to jazz instruction, to be able to share that is pretty special — see some students that involved in jazz music and a light bulb moment that might change their career direction in music.”

The band, in both years, also did a short tour in Minnesota —including TCU — as a part of their visit. Last year they gave a master class in 2023 at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter but chose to give a performance this year there as part of their tour instead. Menk says he was most excited to play at Jazz Central Studios in Minneapolis, which he considers the premiere place to listen to live jazz in the Twin Cities.

Outside of their two Minnesota mini-tours, IRIS has only done one regional tour throughout Indiana, Michigan and Illinois in May of 2023. Around Chicago, they play fairly regularly at most of the known jazz festivals, such as the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which happens at multiple venues and focuses on the south side of Chicago, and the Chicago Jazz Festival, which is put on by the City of Chicago and the Jazz Institute of Chicago in Millennium Park.

 

Coming of an album

Most of IRIS’ members met at Northern Illinois University while studying at school for music. Menk is currently a music admissions coordinator at the university, in addition to being the pianist for the quintet. Although none of them are full-time students at the university anymore, Menk says, “We have maintained that connection as we continue to grow our individual careers.”

It isn’t just their individual careers that are growing — which all five members do have their own musical journeys outside of the jazz quintet. Their formulation as a jazz group is also growing.

For a group that doesn’t play together full-time, how did an album come about?

Menk says, “I was literally approached in the hall one day by Arman Sangalang, the group’s tenor saxophonist, and he said, ‘I am recording for this thing,’ and he asked if I would play with him.” The recording was....

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...The album in complete form officially comes out May 3 from Shifting Paradigm Records of the Twin Cities. Search for “IRIS quintet” to find them on their website. It’s available for preorder now for CD or digital download, with the digital download giving you access to three of the eight songs immediately.

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