On a March evening at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village, the alto saxophonist Sherman Irby, wearing a charcoal suit, was unfurling a lithe solo over the rumbling chords of McCoy Tyner. Irby was situated center stage on a waist-high stool, but rather than face the audience, he sat in profile, looking away from the crowd and directly at the John Coltrane Quartet alumnus, now nearly 80. What seemed at first glance like a subtle act of defiance against the conventions of showmanship was really, it soon appeared, a gesture of deference to the eminent pianist before him.
“You can’t get closer to Trane than that,” Irby tells me at the Blue Note, a couple of hours before going onstage. He’s recently been performing with Tyner at the club about one Monday a month.