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Honoring Jack Wilkins



Jack Wilkins was born on June 4, 1944, lived all his life, and died last Friday (May 5) in New York City.  R.I.P.

Jack was a great all-around guitarist.  He worked with great musicians from Charles Mingus to Stan Getz to the Brecker Brothers.  I have been to Jack’s apartment on New York’s Upper West Side numerous times.  In this tribute to this great guitarist, I share a few of our conversations about recording some of his albums.   

JB:  Reflect upon the recording of Something Like a Bird with Charlie Mingus.

JW:  That came later.  I was friends with Mingus.  I used to go to his house.  He would have some ideas and we would try to play it.

JB:  Just the two of you?

JW:  Sometimes, other times others were there.  It was fun.  Paul Jeffrey, who had worked with Monk, and Eddie Gomez among others.  I had met Paul earlier and he wanted to do a record similar to what Sonny Rollins did with The Bridge.  He knew I could read and his music had some serious reading to it.  I went to his house numerous times to rehearse and we later recorded it. The album is called Watershed on the Mainstream label.

JB:  Out of curiosity, what kind of guitar were you playing then?

JW:  I was playing a Gibson L-7 because my L-5 had just gotten stolen.

JB:  What did you appreciate most about working with Mingus?

JW:  I found him very likable.  He was witty and funny. I loved playing with him.

JB:  Let me ask about Captain Blued.

JW:  Creed Taylor called me at 10 o’clock one morning and said he wanted me to record an album right now (laughter).  He picked me up in a limo and took me out to New Jersey to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio and I recorded an album with Chet Baker, Herbert Laws, and some other musicians.  Don Sebesky had written the arrangements.

JB:  The CTI guys . . .

JW: Yeah.  Well, as it worked out, Jim Hall was supposed to do the date and Jim had a contract dispute with Creed, so they called me.  Later the problem was settled with Jim and he came back and overdubbed over my parts on most of the tunes. I was left playing on a couple of tunes and that was fine.  Well, after that, Creed loved my playing and asked me to do a record for him.  It was a double record called Captain Blued and Opal.  Later when it was released on CD in 1992 it was called Mexico.   

JB:  Talk about Merge in 1977 with Randy and Michael Brecker, Jack, DeJohnette, and Eddie Gomez.

JW:  I had just moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan and this was a very productive time for me.  I was playing in lots of jazz clubs and doing a lot of recording.  Eddie Gomez and I were doing a lot of duet gigs at this one club. The club wanted me to bring in a quartet one weekend and so I added Jack DeJohnette and Randy Brecker with Eddie and me. It was great.  Fred Miller of Chiaroscuro Records heard it and wanted to record us.  Those guys are killer musicians and it is a great record. 

Later we did You Can’t Live Without It in 1977 with Michael and Randy Brecker, Phil Markowitz, Jon Burr, and Al Foster. When it was released as a CD the two albums were combined.  Michael and Randy are such great musicians and play so well together.

JB:  Talk about your work with Bob Brookmeyer in 1979.

JW:  Jim Hall knew of my playing and he was good friends with Bob Brookmeyer. Bob was putting together a quartet and he wanted Jim to play in it and if Jim couldn’t do it, could he recommend someone for it and Jim recommended me.  It was a great experience.  We recorded the record live and it is one of my favorite records.

JB:  Tell me about Call Him Reckless which you made in 1989.

JW:  I was doing this steady gig with a clarinet player, Ron Odrich, and the owner of Music Masters came by one night and loved my playing and asked if wanted to make some recordings.  I said, “Of course!” and decided to do a trio album.  I was playing with Steve LaSpina on bass and Mike Clark on drums at the time. I’m into anagrams where you, for example, take the letters of your name and scramble them up to make other names.  So, Call Him Reck is an anagram for Michael Clark.  So, I just finished it off with Call Him Reckless.  I like the record but it was a little unfocused.  It was a little fusiony in places and traditional in others. 

Alien Army came out on the same label in 1990 and was recorded at a very bad time of my life.  I had two guitars stolen and was attacked on the street and life just wasn’t going well for me then.  I wanted to make a very personal album and so I spent hours and hours composing, recomposing, and rehearsing this music.  Some people loved it and some hated it.  It still sounds fresh to me after all these years.

Jack with Jimmy Bruno in 1998

JB:  Let me ask about Trio Art which came out in 1998.

JW:  It was devised from the trio sounds of those Barney Kessel and Bill Evans trios.  Trio is my favorite format and that record reminded me just how dynamic the trio can be.  That is one of my favorite albums.

JB:  Just the Two Of Us with Gene Bertoncini was recorded on a cruise ship in 2000.

JW:  Gene and I have been friends for years.  When we were playing together I knew right away that this was going to be a great record.  Gene is so good in terms of dynamics, interplay, and well-constructed solos and Gene accompanies so tastefully.  It was a lot of fun to make.  Gene and I just laughed and laughed during that time.

JB:  Heading North in 2001 was also made on a cruise ship?

JW: Yeah, Jimmy Bruno and I were on Queen Elizabeth II and we had a lot of fun making that duet record.  

JB:  Let me as about Reunion in 2001 with Randy and Michael Brecker, Jack, DeJohnette, Eddie Gomez.

JW:  I brought the guys all back together again but it was sure hard.  I sent the music to all the guys and we just went in with no rehearsal and recorded the tunes.  We also didn’t have much time to get the sound right in the studio.  But still, there are some nice things there.

We will miss the fresh approach and creativity that Jack brought to the guitar. To see Jack in action go to…

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