Darien Orr talks with Off The Strip about his music career, working with Usher and his upcoming show in Henderson
From headlining The Jam to performing in Usher’s residency, Darien Orr lights up a crowd with his unparalleled musicianship. Orr comes from the Chicago suburbs, but he has made Las Vegas his second home. He is a professional saxophonist, drummer, pianist and middle school band director all in one.
Darien Orr fills in Off The Strip with all the details about his ever-evolving music career, working in Usher’s immersive pre-show and what projects lie ahead for the versatile virtuoso.
What sparked your interest in Music?
When I was a kid, I started off playing the drums in church. My older brother played drums and I wanted to do that. It came naturally to me. When it came time for me to pick an instrument in middle school, my dad told me that I couldn’t pick the percussion because he said [I was not] not going to learn how to read music. So I picked up the saxophone and have been playing since then. It’s always been a part of my life.
I started playing the piano after playing the saxophone ‘cause they needed somebody to play the piano at church and I was the musical person. I went to college and majored in music education. I’ve been teaching since 2013. [ I started] off [teaching] in elementary.
Then I moved out here in 2017 and I’ve been teaching band in middle school. It’s kind of fun, it’s just hard to get the kids practicing. I see myself in them and that’s what keeps me going. I practiced when I had to perform, when I had to play. I wasn’t a sit-down-and-practice-music type of a kid and I’m struggling with that now as an adult. Just make it a habit of practicing. Just practice just to practice.
where has been your favorite place that you’ve performed in Vegas so far and why did you like it?
I have a lot of places I liked for different reasons. I think just as far as energy, liveliness and support The Jam has always been steady for me. It’s actually the first place that I went to perform on my saxophone when I moved out here. I try to keep a relationship with them because I feel like they are a big part of why I play right now.
And then most recently, I’ve been playing at the Usher residency when it was out here. That’s one of my top performances. That was a big thing for me just to see the people who were at the shows, seeing other celebrities, seeing him walk around, the energy of the performance and that was a good cast that we put together. I was part of the immersive show. It was really cool.
How did you get involved in the Usher Residency?
I play saxophone for this lady named Skye Miles and she had the connections. They needed to put a combo together. She was like ‘I need somebody on saxophone, would you want to play?’ I’m like yeah. I found out later it was for Usher.
What was it like to meet usher?
I saw him every now and again, he was pretty cool. But most of the times I did see him he was on the move somewhere with his security team. Before our performances sometimes, he would come by and just nod and say hey. I was mostly playing at the time so I couldn’t really say much else to him. He was a good guy. In the summer, there was an afterparty almost everyday.
Who is a local artist you would like to collaborate with and why?
I’ve collaborated with a lot of artists. I’m trying to think of somebody that I haven’t done anything with yet. There’s so many ways that question can be answered. I’ve performed with poets, I’ve performed with other musicians, I’ve performed with singers.
I know you just did an interview with Marion Peru and I don’t think I’ve performed with her yet, so that would be interesting to see that. I also have some of the dancers that were part of the Usher’s immersive show. I’ve been trying to get some collaboration videos together for that and using a dance element in there. I’m trying to bring in the other arts and highlight those and make it like a complete experience.
There are different kinds of saxophone players. I try to be a little more energetic, but I think I find most of my creativity in being a part of everything. I’m working on showmanship, too. Bringing in dancing takes the burden off me, people have something to look at. It’s a whole production.
The Five faves
Favorite local restaurant: Greek Bistro on Sunset. My wife is going to kill me she has a whole list of restaurants that we been to and need to go to. But that’s the plan, she’s the better half (laughs)
Favorite song to sing at karaoke: I don’t sing karaoke, but the song I can remember words to, I would say is “Ordinary People” by John Legend
Favorite Fashion Store: I used to find a lot of stuff at H & M
Favorite Concert You Attended in Las Vegas: Usher concert, hands down. I was part of the pre-show. His show was immaculate.
If you could perform anywhere in the world where would you perform and why?
Wow. If it was a big show, I would want to go back home to Chicago. I was telling my mom the other day, I feel like I haven’t performed in Illinois other than stuff I had to do for school. I haven’t been this saxophone player playing at people’s events and shows. I haven’t been that at home. I would want to see what that would feel like around people that I know, people that I grew up playing with. That would be cool.
What advice would you give your younger self about making music?
Practice [music] consistently with a purpose. You have to make it a habit. With the kids, I tell them that they are young enough where they can make this a habit and something that they grew up with and they’re just used to doing it. Just 30 minutes a day I’m practicing my instrument. And I don’t have that. I’m trying to do it and it’s just hard and difficult.
Do you have any upcoming performances in town?
Yes, it’s at the Gambit Henderson. It’s pretty much just a dinner show. I’m opening up for Ken Young. I’m the first act. I have a 30-45 minute set. I’ve played alongside with him a lot times. It will be a good chance to develop a show. I’m trying to work on developing a [routine where] everytime I have a show, [I have] songs that I can select from and guide the band in a way that we have transitions. And have some organization to the show. It’s very soon. I’m looking forward to it and it should be a lot of fun.
What other projects are underway?
Along with when I was playing at The Jam, I was doing this thing called Sax Sundays. I did it for a good four or five months and I’m going to bring that back. Either I am going to do a video every Sunday or every other Sunday, I’m still trying to figure out how consistent I want it to be. But I think it goes a long with the practicing. I want to give myself something to practice for. Everything is going to go on Instagram.
Catch Darien’s Sax Sundays by following him on Instagram, TikTok and Spotify.