Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Steve Wilkerson – Sure Enough!


© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“Steve Wilkerson swings hard one moment and lyrically mesmerizes the next; he is beautifully showcased by the writing of Sandy Megas and nine swinging musicians. Swinging new music for the swinging new millennium. Bravo!!”
- Pete Rugolo, composer-arranger

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles has a very dear friend who lives nearby and with whom it meets periodically to have “coffee and a nosh” and to talk about Jazz.

He is a fountain of knowledge on the subject, along with being one of the nicest human beings that you’d ever want to meet.

During one such chat and chew a number of years ago, the conversation turned to Jazz baritone saxophonists.

After listing our many favorite players on this bulky piece of plumbing, my Jazz buddy brought up – “Steve Wilkerson” - a name that I had never heard associated with the instrument before.

When the look-of-the-unknown-Jazz-musician crossed my face, one of satisfied delight came over his and he said: “I’ll send you a Steve Wilkerson album.”

True to his word, a few days later, Shaw ‘Nuff, a CD that was self-produced by Steve and his Jazz vocalist wife, Andrea Baker, arrived in my mailbox.

Listening to it for the first time was a jaw-dropping experience.

During fifty plus years of listening to recorded Jazz, I’ve heard a lot of great instrumentalists.

Steve Wilkerson’s performance on this recording was right up there with the best of them.

What made listening to the album even more enjoyable were the arrangements that Sandy Megas scored for the nine-piece group accompanying Steve.

It was comparable to hearing Marty Paich’s arrangements for alto saxophonist Art Pepper + Eleven forty years later.

In other words, I experienced the equivalent of a musical feast while listening to Steve and the other fine musicians on Shaw ‘Nuff  play on Sandy’s charts.

Pianist George Shearing once said that the hardest thing about improvising Jazz was “… getting it from your head into your hands.”

Listening to Steve Wilkerson execute his ideas on the rather cumbersome baritone saxophone, you’d think that he had never heard of the difficulty that Shearing describes.

Steve’s playing just flows – idea after idea, swinging phrase after swinging phrase – an uninterrupted torrent of musical expression done at the very highest level all aided and abetted by Sandy’s beautifully crafted charts.

For fear of hyperbole, there are times when it’s best to let a musician’s playing “speak” for itself, and this is one of those times.

If you wish to garner more information about Steve and Sandy’s respective backgrounds and recordings, each has a website which you can locate by going here and here.

In the meantime, you can experience the pleasure of Steve’s artistry in the following video tribute to him featuring his performance of Sandy’s arrangement of  Horace Silver’s Nica’s Dream.

See if you can pick-up the manner in which Sandy has trombonist Greg Solomon playing trombone in unison with Steve’s baritone saxophone on the tune’s melody and then switching to playing in harmony with him –[0:53] - from the tune’s bridge and on to the closing repeat of the melody.

Pianist Marc LeBrun takes the first solo and Steve’s solo kicks in at 2:53 minutes.

In addition to Steve, Greg and Marc, the other musicians in the group are Gary Halopoff [tp], Ray Reed [ss/as], Jim Quam [as/fl], Terry Harrington [ts], Andy Simpkins [b] and James Gadson [dr].