By Elisa Zuckerberg, on November 12, 2019


International Orange (a.k.a. #iO) is the brainchild of New York City veteran musicians and longtime friends Todd Isler and David Phelps. They’re known for their innovative, funky originals that marry the slide guitar of the American South to the sensibilities of India, Africa and Brazil.

The members of #iO have played around the globe, their genre-crossing resume stretching from Joe Lovano to Phish’s Mike Gordon and Trey Anastacio, Angelique Kidjo, Tania Maria, John Medeski to Abdoulaye Debate and Francis Mbappe, Ivan Neville, Melvin Sparks, Steve Kimock, Jack McDuff, Betty Buckley and on and on.

The band has played some of NYC’s finest venues such as the Blue Note, Iridium, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and as individuals, many music festivals around the globe.

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Drummer, teacher and author Todd Isler, is based in New York City, where he has been active in the jazz and world music scene for over 20 years. He currently co-leads International Orange, has two recordings under his own name, and the author of “You Can Ta Ka Di Mi This” a book utilizing the South Indian Rhythm System to help musicians ground and expand their sense of rhythm. He was also a winner of the JAZZIZ Magazine Percussion On Fire contest and has toured Africa under the Goethe Institute, studied the South Indian Mrdangham with Ramnod V. Raghavan and Karaikudi R. Mani in India, and Brazilian greats Portinho and Vanderlei in NYC.

A native New Yorker, bass player Leo Traversa has distinguished himself as a musician and educator. Leo has performed in major concert halls, clubs, and jazz festivals throughout the world. He has played and recorded with a wide range of internationally known artists including Angelique Kidjo, Michael Brecker, Larry Harlow, David Krakauer, Don Byron, John Pizzarelli, and many, many more.

Guitarist, vocalist David Phelps has been called a “journey-man musician par excellence”, currently a member of Peter Apfelbaum’s 11-piece band New York Hieroglyphics, an avant-garde jazz ensemble combining world music influences.

Adam Morrison is a keyboard player, composer and teacher based in New York City and active as a player and teacher of jazz, ethnic music and new music. He also plays with The Hevreh Ensemble. He has performed extensively throughout Europe, the United States and Israel.

Todd Isler, International Orange drummer, and I recently spoke about the band origins and each of the musician’s journeys. Here are some of the highlights:

The Jazz and World Music

International Orange is comprised of a very accomplished group of musicians with a wide range of musical influences. Isler talked about his band-mates and what makes each of the band members groove.

“We grew up in the electric Jazz era, electric Miles, Weather Report, etc, so that’s in our music as well. We bend genres and I’m not sure what to call it. Lately we’ve been calling it ‘Jam-Jazz.’ Growing up that’s what we were listening to and those were our influences.”

About David Phelps: “When you hear Phelps play you know it’s him immediately.” “He has a distinct voice on the instrument, stretching the boundaries of what slide guitar can do.”

“Leo Traversa, our bass player, has played just about everything you can imagine. He is one of the few bass players I’ve heard that can play Afro- Cuban and Brazilian music authentically. That’s not an easy thing to do because each have their own rich and deep traditions,” says Isler.

Having lived in the Middle East for ten years, Adam Morrison brings all those flavors to bear on the music.

“We give each other permission to bring all these things in and somehow we meet with a lot of common ground.”

About putting it all together: “There are moments when we have to go into what we jokingly call, tempo de-learno. That just means slowing it down to practice a challenging rhythm or melodic phrase. We all bring different experiences to the table and we’re learning to trust each other. That’s what it’s all about.”

I try to abide by something my friend Jamey Haddad said:

“Nobody cares what you play – they only care about how you make them feel.”

 Fun Fact: The band name “International Orange”

“Phelps and I were eating at our favorite Brooklyn bagel joint, reading Snapple caps. One of them read, “The Golden Gate Bridge is painted in International Orange”. Turns out International Orange is an official color in the aerospace industry. Phelps’ favorite color is Orange and I like the International aspect of it for obvious reasons!.” ~ Todd

Check out International Orange’s upcoming show schedule at