Jazz Guitarist Jack Wilkins Plays Ella’s (April 23rd, 2007) The lights dim, the audience waits with expectation, and then, those first magical notes. Jazz guitar master Jack Wilkins begins many songs with a carefully crafted intro using exquisitely tapped overtones before engaging the lead with a picked chord melody style that could only be called “plectricity”.
Jack Wilkins on guitar.Wilkins gave a guitar seminar at Ella’s in downtown Spokane on Saturday, April 21, followed by an evening showcase starting at nine and keeping time until one in the morning.
Having played with many jazz greats including Stanley Turrentine, Jimmy Heath, The Mingus Epitaph, and bassist Eddie Gomez, as well as with singers Mel Torme, Ray Charles, Morgana King, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, The Manhattan Transfer, Nancy Marano and Jay Clayton, Wilkins has the chops. Brian Flick on bass. Tom Shagger on drums.
Playing his own Jack Wilkins Signature Model Benedetto, Wilkins was accompanied by Brian Flick on bass and Tom Shagger on drums. Flick is the Operations Manager and Jazz Coordinator for Spokane radio station KPBX 91.1 FM and can be heard live from 1-4 p.m. Fridays. Flick is an extraordinary bassist and made an excellent playing partner for Wilkins. Shagger’s sense of timing was impeccable and there were many moments when he and his stagemates would engage in call-and-answer techniques. His creative use of brushes on cymbals made for a compelling sound like echoing rain.
The Ella’s experience: Jack Wilkins on guitar, Brian Flick on bass, and Tom Shagger on drums were enjoyed by a full house of jazz enthusiasts.
Wilkins’ music is sweet to the ears, but he’s also fun to watch. It’s easy to see what a good time he’s having when he breaks out in a wide grin while he plays. There’s a lot of eye contact between him and his stagemates, a lot of listening going on, and unspoken communication through gestures, nods and the music itself.
The songs included “Moon River”, “The Shadow Of Your Smile”, “Skylark”, “All The Things You Are”, and many others.
Wilkins made a good show of announcing each song and saying just a little about it, to help set the mood for the piece. He also joked a bit with the audience and let his personality show through.
“You know I’m from New York. I don’t really sound like it, but I can lay it on if you want,” Wilkins said. The audience wanted to hear the accent. “Fuhgeddaboutit,” was the response. The audience had a good chuckle.
The show included a superlative solo playing on “Here’s That Rainy Day”, which strongly featured his incredible overtone work.
“People are really fascinated by the overtones,” Wilkins said. “They really quiet down and concentrate on them.”
Toward the end of the evening, Wilkins asked a couple guests to sit in. First up was locally famous classical vocalist Bob Roberts, singing “Someone To Watch Over Me”. Although this was the first time Roberts had sung the Gershwin classic in public, he’s no stranger to the genre. In 2000, Roberts sang Bing Crosby hits with the Spokane Opera Guild for a special event. The Lair at Spokane Community College was made up to look like an historic live radio broadcast from L.A.’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel.
Wilkins’ second special guest was the renowned Spokane guitarist Ken Luker. Demonstrating his Wes Montgomery influence, he played a Hofner Verithin with soulful depth on “Four On Six”, a piece actually based on the changes to Gershwin’s “Summertime”. Luker played it with a passion that invoked the memory of Montgomery. Wilkins enjoyed the performance as much as the audience did.
When the evening was finished, the trio was saluted with a standing ovation. There were almost as many people still in the club at closing time as when the concert began, and that was a packed house.
Ella’s Supper Club plays host to many jazz musicians, both local and visiting. They maintain a schedule of upcoming performances at their website. Ella’s is located in downtown Spokane, Washington in the CenterStage building, 3rd floor. Wilkins’ visit was made possible by the Jazz Guitar Society of Spokane.
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