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Dwight Sills: Creating His Own Space

Liz Goodwin By

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After delivering three projects on other record labels, guitarist-composer-producer Dwight Sills decided it was time to start creating an outlet for himself on his fourth and most personal CD yet, Short Stories.

Creating this outlet was not a new concept for the Houston, Texas resident. Most of the eight tunes on this eclectic and engaging 2016 offering were written by Sills during the early '80s, when he was honing his craft on the ever-burgeoning Houston jazz club circuit. He explains that the process for him, while not the most facile one, was both gratifying and worth the risks that it took to follow his muse and conviction.

"This is the album that I've wanted to do all along," he says proudly, speaking via telephone from his home. I put my interests on the back burner and time, as we all know, is not promised to us." "It was a task but it was great. It was a learning curve for me and a process, but it was cool. I knew exactly what I wanted. I went back to revisit those tunes because there was a lot of musical development for me at that time, so I wanted to go back with the ears that I have now, and add a new twist to them."

One of the intangible twists to the Raleigh, N.C. native's Short Stories recording was focusing on not worrying about how the project would be perceived or marketed for a change. With his three previous releases: the eponymous Dwight Sills (Sony, 1990); Second Wind (Sony, 1991); and Easy (City Lights, 1999), a now defunct San Francisco-based label), he concedes that promoters often assured him more airplay if he played in a more smooth-jazz friendly style that would be more accessible to fans of the genre. As a result of more or less acquiescing to the demands of the marketplace in the past, he found himself not being as fulfilled as an artist; therefore, adhering to someone else's vision. All of those expectations from others evaporated with the birth of Short Stories.

"None of this music is for smooth jazz radio, he says emphatically, "and I knew that. "That's why I did it for myself with no expectations of selling a whole bunch. That wasn't the motive. The motive was to get the music out and to share it with those who know me and who have followed my career and the thing for me is that for every record that I've ever done, it was like starting over. He laughs at the wistful memories. "I mean, I was, literally speaking, starting over again because I did the first record, Dwight Sills, back in 1990, and then I went out and toured a little bit on that. Then, the second record came out, Second Wind, and I toured on that. But then if you're not touring constantly, you have to find other work. That's when I started playing with trombonist-producer-composer and Crusaders co-founder Wayne Henderson and saxophonist Wilton Felder. "Playing with them was great," he says, relishing the experience. So then after Second Wind, you start touring again and a few years go by, so I go out and do some more gigs," he says with a chuckle, "and do more promoting and it's just the same thing over and over. After a while, you're like, I starved enough in my younger years. I'm not [sic] going to do that again," sounding determined not to relive the frustration.

For Sills, an affable, articulate artist who has weathered many record business storms—with his metaphorical umbrella always on standby—Short Stories didn't leave him with a frustrating forecast of partly cloudy, chance of rain. Instead the musical skies have been much sunnier this time around. Unlike his previous projects, Short Stories represents and signifies music that always has been close to his heart. Understandably, each song has its own backstory. One particular tune that exemplifies this is the alternately mellow and fiery "628 Woodland...And Travels Beyond." It features a blazing trumpet solo by Ingrid Jensen and some sinewy solos by Sills that are a cross between his mellifluous, sensitive string work, and incendiary Jimi Hendrix-like (his musical idol and primary influence) fretboard showmanship. He fondly recalls the song's title. "628 Woodland is an address where I lived in Houston, Texas during the late '70s. It was a place where there was a lot of musical growth going on at the time. I was playing in a four-piece, straight-ahead band four nights a week," he says, as if he wouldn't mind reliving those special days, when times were more relaxed and the emphasis on artist development was encouraged rather than dismissed altogether in favor of pleasing the masses as in today's cycle.


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