Take Five With Gini Wilson: The Duchess
Gini Wilson, known as The Duchess, is legendary in the Bay area as a brilliant jazz pianist, entertainer, and composer. Gini performs regularly at Jazz Festivals, well-known jazz clubs such as Jazz at Pearls, and Shanghai 1930 in San Francisco and Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz; in solo and with her groups. In many television and radio projects, concerts and interviews she is also noted for her irreverent sense of humor. Her nationally recognized concert group, The San Francisco ChamberJazz Quartet is well known for lyrical and innovative original jazz performances and notable CDs including SFCJQ and The Crossing Point.
Instrument(s): acoustic piano
Teachers and/or influences? I was trained as a classical pianist and studied with some illustrious names such as Carlo Bussotti, and studied composition with the great innovator George Crumb. John Cage opened the door to serious improvisation. I defected from the classical world when I heard Miles Davis and Bill Evans, great influences. Current influences include everything from Horace Silver and McCoy Tyner to Wayne Shorter, Maria Schneider and Cedar Walton. Also Brazilian music, Piazzolla and world music.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I always knew. When I was 18 months old I was trying to play the piano and my father took me off the bench- he said he never saw a child look so crushed. (he put me right back up there.) I performed in Radio City music hall for a show at the age of five. They awarded me with a doll- I thought that was a good gig to have.
Your sound and approach to music: My sound at its best is a compendium of the jazz and classical sounds I hear and want to express. I like music to have some real substance. The hook for me into jazz is improvisation, lyrical and expressive. I try to make every note meaningful and important. I love to compose and usually hear songs and themes in dreams or they just appear.
Your teaching approach: I learn so much from my students ( mostly ages 12 and up)we study classical disciplines and techniques from Bach to Bartok (very important) They start learning 12 Bar Blues very early and also I encourage compositions. I have found most students want to improvise and are pretty good at it naturally. Several of my students have gone into music careers.
Your dream band: My real dream band is my own fairly well known group, The San Francisco ChamberJazz Quartet, co-founded with Steve Heckman the notable reed master. Check out our CD SFCJQ with the guest artist Jackie Ryan. As a dream band in heaven: Paul McCandless, John Patitucci, and Terri Lyne Carrington (and Wayne Shorter, anyone??)
Road story: Your best or worst experience: I was in a beautiful club in SF up high overlooking the Bay. I had a great trio and a piano bar built around the piano (NO singing, please). A couple of girls who were having a lover's quarrel were sitting at the bar and drinking a lot, arguing a lot, and drinking a lot more. They were Big Girls. They were throwing money in the jar and growling at me "play 'Call Me.'" I did, they asked again, I played it again, and during that rendition one of them quickly turned on the barstool and roundhouse punched her girlfriend. The punchee fell off the barstool and the puncher fell directly on top of her on the floor. Like I said, they were large girls. Security came and tried to delaminate them from each other. It took a while. The bassist and drummer were laughing so hard they couldn't breathe.
Favorite venue: As a steady, Jazz at Pearls in San Francisco was perfect. Kim Nalley owned it at the time and we had so much fun. I performed solo piano accompanied with smart remarks there as a steady as the opening act to the headliner. My quartet played there too. The staff was great and it was in North Beach, the best part of San Francisco. Too bad it is now closed, a big loss.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why? I am really fond of The Crossing Point which was a break-through CD for my quartet. There is a lot of original material on it and it really explains my concept of chamberjazz. (a crossing point of classical and jazz sensibilities)
The first Jazz album I bought was: Time Out by Dave Brubeck.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I like to think I have an original viewpoint and communicate enough that the listener will feel something.
Did you know... I can speak French and make great soup. Improvisation in the kitchen in the morning, music at night. I am known for irreverent humor and smart remarks. I am the mother of the notorious Cintra Wilson.
CDs you are listening to now:
Brian Blade Fellowship: Perceptual
Robert Glasper: In My Element
Mariza: Fado Curvo
Cedar Walton: Eastern Rebellion
Oregon: Live at Yoshi's
Desert Island picks:
Piano Trio in a minor- Maurice Ravel (many versions available)
Maria Schneider: Allegresse
Mingus Big Band: Nostalgia in Times Square
Gidon Kremer: Hommage a Piazzolla
Milton Nascimento: Anything
How would you describe the state of jazz today? It is rapidly becoming a cult figure. The new jazz is difficult and esoteric for most people to understand. The technical levels have shot over the moon- the best jazz for me is trying to go back to real lyricism. That is why folks are going back to the American Songbook. We need small local clubs to buy pianos and have a corner for live music. This is essential.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? I think that the demise of IAJE was a big loss. I think the high school jazz bands are a big plus. I am really excited to see a lot of girls/women rushing into jazz. As these students grow up, they will be wanting to hear/play jazz and that will keep the tradition going. but where are the small clubs??
What is in the near future? CD Release Concert: April 11 Piedmont Piano Series, Oakland CA other concerts being planned, various SF club gigs
By Day: Teaching piano in my own studio, 4 afternoons a week. Is that a day job?
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: stage actress or comedian. Or comedy writer.