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Review- Birthday Party at the Jazz Standard
Fellow Guitarists Fete Jack Wilkins at 70th Birthday Bash
Downbeat Magazine Posted 7/25/2014
A true “guitarist’s guitarist,” Jack Wilkins got a little help from his friends in the six-string community at a memorable event at New York’s Jazz Standard on July 1, organized by promoter and guitar aficionado Charles Carlini, in celebration of Wilkins’ 70th birthday (which actually fell on June 3).
An inveterate swinger whose fluid, single-note lines, rhythmic comping style and imaginative chordal approach have distinguished his playing since his days in the Buddy Rich Orchestra during the early ’70s, Wilkins is a master of shimmering arpeggios and ringing harmonics, a technique pioneered by the late Lenny Breau.
While his fretboard prowess is on par with his celebrated contemporaries such as Pat Martino and Larry Coryell, aged 69 and 71 respectively, Wilkins has stayed under the radar in terms of audience recognition since the release of his debut record, 1973’s Windows (Mainstream). He remains highly regarded within the inner circle of elite jazz guitarists, seven of whom were on hand to honor their talented colleague on this special night.
Wilkins kicked off the proceedings in a trio setting with bassist Andy McKee and drummer Billy Drummond, performing a boppish take on “Out Of Nowhere” and a gorgeous “Stars Fell On Alabama.” Howard Alden next brought out his seven-string guitar to join the trio on a romp through Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” that brought out the shred factor of both guitarists.
The quartet then left the stage to make way for Gene Bertoncini, whose brilliant, harmonically advanced rendition of “Laura” on nylon-string acoustic provided a cleansing breath after the pyrotechnics of Alden and Wilkins.
The biggest surprise and triumph of the evening was the first public performance by guitarist Joe Diorio since a stroke in April 2005 that left his entire left side paralyzed, including his fretting hand. Through sheer willpower and daily rehabilitation, the 77-year-old guitarist has learned how to walk again, and use his arm and hand. Miraculously, he was able to not only play a sublime rendition of “Stella By Starlight” in an intimate duo setting with his young protégé and right-hand man, Christopher Morrison, but also delve into some daring melodic invention on the standard.
Before playing, Diorio told the audience, “All the guardian angels are not in heaven. There’s one here tonight and I would’ve never made it without her—my wife, Tina.” He also offered this humorous aside: “I can’t play as fast as Jack or Howard. I think they take a little something to play that fast, if you know what I mean.”
Diorio caressed each note of “Stella” like a starving man who suddenly found himself seated at a banquet. Following his heartfelt performance, the guitarist received a standing ovation from the packed house.
Returning to the burn, Wilkins and Jimmy Bruno went toe-to-toe on an uptempo rendition of “All The Things You Are,” with sax-like chops ablaze (Wilkins playing Jimmy Raney to Bruno’s Billy Bean). Aside from their respective hot solos, the two great guitarists created beautifully interwoven contrapuntal lines that caused emcee Carlini to announce after the tune was over, “Thank you Jimmy and Jack for that rendition of ‘Ode To Bach.’”
Kindred spirits John Abercrombie and Vic Juris followed with an adventurous rendition of “Alone Together” that featured a brilliant bass solo from McKee. Larry Coryell then joined Abercrombie and Wilkins for the swinging finale, “How Deep Is The Ocean,” which culminated in rapid-fire exchanges of eights.
For the second set, Harvie Swartz replaced McKee on bass, joining Drummond and Wilkins for “Taking A Chance On Love,” a gorgeous, harmonics-laden “Here’s That Rainy Day” and a rendition of Christopher Cross’ “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” with Wilkins throwing in Wes Montgomery-styled octaves.
Diorio was even more expressive on his one featured tune in the second set, and Bruno was incendiary alongside Wilkins on “There Will Never Be Another You,” which featured more exhilarating exchanges of fleet-fingered eights at the tag.
Abercrombie and Juris turned in a delicious version of “Yesterdays” that had the latter blowing over the changes with masterful abandon.
The audience was packed with guitarists—Jerome Harris, Kenny Wessel, Amanda Monaco, Sheryl Bailey, Rez Abbasi, Joe Giglio and Bobby Rose, who’s famous for his collaborations with Martino. All rose as one to cheer on the birthday boy during this rare six-string summit.