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Steve Wilson: Band Leader, Sideman, Educator, Historian, "Jazz Master"


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A Seasoned Veteran, with the Vitality of a Newcomer

Steve Wilson Wears Many Hats, all with Modesty: Band Leader, Sideman, Educator, Historian, “Jazz Master"

Interview Runs in November DownBeat

Back in 1996, The New York Times described Steve Wilson as “perhaps the quintessential sideman: modest, flexible, congenial and much in demand." In the 11 years since, Steve Wilson has simultaneously embraced and eclipsed the moniker, finally reaching the point in his career where one title simply can't tell the full story.

Yes, he's a saxophonist. Yes, he's a sought-after sideman. And, yes, he's a respected band leader, with two celebrated quartets. But there's more to Steve Wilson than meets the eye. He's also an educator, focused on the tradition of passing his knowledge on to up-and- coming musicians. And, he's a true jazz historian - well versed in the evolution of America's Art Form. In fact, it may be safe to say that Steve Wilson has developed into a sort of jazz 'Yoda' -- a true 'Jazz Master'.

Regardless of how you choose to describe him, Steve Wilson is a gracious and humble presence - one who pursues his music, and his varied roles, seriously and soulfully.

Critical acclaim has followed Wilson throughout his busy career. He is known for his versatility, and for saying more with less, attributes that have drawn many other artists to work with him over the past 20-plus years. With over 100 recordings to his credit, including seven as a band leader, Wilson continues to set the standard for the best of what jazz can be - uplifting, unpredictable, eloquent and passionate.

In this year's DownBeat Critics' Poll, Wilson was named the winner of 'Rising Star on Soprano Sax'. He's actually been highlighted in those polls for the past 10 years, in both the alto and soprano sax categories. The November issue of DownBeat Magazine will feature an interview with Steve Wilson, written by Jennifer Odell.

Wilson is well known for his regular performances with such respected artists as Chick Corea, Dianne Reeves, Dave Holland and more. He continues to work with The Maria Schneider Orchestra, Mulgrew Miller, Renee Rosnes, and Lewis Nash and others.

Looking ahead: 2007 and 2008 continue to find Steve Wilson in the spotlight. With plans to return to the studio next year to record a new CD, and a busy schedule of headlining dates as well as collaborations, Wilson is '46 years young', and ready to carry his beloved jazz to new audiences throughout America.

Here is a further overview of saxophonist and flautist Steve Wilson:

Steve Wilson - Band Leader: As a band leader, Steve Wilson has established three winning configurations of his headlining act:

The Steve Wilson Quartet: Wilson is proud to have worked with the same quartet since 1997. Featuring pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Adam Cruz, The Steve Wilson Quartet is widely considered to be among the best jazz has to offer. They've toured the U.S., Europe and Caribbean extensively, and have recorded two CDs, 'Passages' and 'Soulful Song'. This decade-long relationship allows Wilson to be at his most relaxed and expressive on stage. As a result, this band of contemporaries delivers inspired melodies in shifting styles, with the understated swing and solidarity that comes from ten years of performing together.

Steve Wilson's 'Generations' Band: Wilson's 'Generations' Band assembles a multi-generational quartet of living jazz legends. Pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Ben Riley unite with Wilson to explore the rich history of America's classical music, performing works by Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, as well as original works by the ensemble and standards from the Great American Songbook.

The Lewis Nash/Steve Wilson Duo: The Lewis Nash/Steve Wilson Duo pairs two great instrumentalists on one stage. Like Wilson, drummer Nash is grounded in the rich history of jazz, while simultaneously serving as a leader and role model for the next generation of performers. Together, Wilson and Nash complement each other as innovators - charting new courses and sharing a natural chemistry that allows them the freedom to experiment, improvise, and trust one another. Such rare pairings help jazz to soar, and audiences get to share in the joy these two men bring to a stage.

Steve Wilson - Sideman: Steve Wilson has appeared on the bandstand with many of the greats of the past 20 years. He was a sax player in the Dave Holland Qnt; he toured and recorded with three of Chick Corea's most acclaimed bands: Origin, The Elektric Band, and The New Quartet; he has collaborated with George Duke on Duke's own projects and others he's produced, including Dianne Reeves. Wilson is also a regular presence alongside Maria Schneider, Buster Williams, Mulgrew Miller and many others. Wilson has been invited to participate in several all-star productions (most recently as a Guest Artist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Town Hall this past June -- the opening concert for the JVC Festival Season.) Years ago, Steve performed at Carnegie Hall with Dr. John, as a part of a re-make of “Spirituals to Swing". In both of these situations, Wilson considered it a great privilege to perform in the New Orleans tradition with New Orleans musicians. Wilson has been described as “adept in almost any setting," and this is evident in the range of respected artists who have asked him to perform over the years. He even served as technical consultant to actor Harvey Keitel, and appeared in Paul Auster's film “Lulu On The Bridge."

Steve Wilson - Educator: Wilson's busy schedule regularly includes extensive Educational Workshops, during which he will visit a University for several days, conduct Master Classes, perform as a Guest Artist with a local school/University band, and more. These trips are close to Wilson's heart, and allow his personality to shine with students and faculty alike. Here's a small sampling of warm reactions from past visits: “I have hosted many internationally-known jazz artists during my teaching career. Steve Wilson's clinic sessions rank among the very top in content, interaction, inspiration and sheer attention-level." Antonio Garcia, Chair, Jazz Department, Virginia Commonwealth University “He is the consummate musician-artist-teacher." “One of the most articulate and competent of the artists interested in education on today's scene." Jim Ketch, Chair, Music Department, University of North Carolina Chappell Hill “To have someone of his caliber as a musician and educator connecting with the kids in our community is a one-of-a-kind experience." Dave Barber, Dir. of Programs, CITYFOLK

Steve Wilson - Historian: If there were ever a 'game show about jazz', you'd want to get Steve Wilson on your team - pronto. He's one of those guys you can ask about virtually any recording, and he'd be able to tell you when the session took place, and who was on it. Wilson has a deep respect for, and a vast knowledge of, the history of jazz. This expansive base of knowledge helps to define him as a musician's musician, yet it does not confine him as a performer. In fact, his breadth of knowledge helps to separate Steve from the pack, establishing him as one of the few saxophonists who has a truly distinctive voice - a perspective which encompasses the past, present and future of jazz.

Steve Wilson - 'Jazz Master': All of this brings us to the concept of Steve Wilson as 'jazz master'. Wilson has reached the point in his career where all of the essential tools are in place and he is now being called upon, repeatedly, as an 'expert' in the field. He is someone who is a part of the next generation of jazz establishment, who has had the experience of playing with many of jazz's current and past greats, and who is now in a position to legitimately begin 'passing the torch.' Wilson firmly believes that hearing the old stories and playing the classic music is what provides any jazz musician with the strongest foundation to find their own sound. As such, he advocates large ensemble/big band experience as essential to the development of any jazz musician - it's certainly something he credits has having helped him develop his ability to fit into virtually any musical situation. Put simply, Wilson believes that to go forward, one must respect and learn from the past.

Steve Wilson - Upcoming Activity: Wilson's schedule is busy, as always. In addition to his plans to head back into the studio in 2008 to work on a new CD, here are a few recent and upcoming highlights among Steve Wilson's activities:

October 27, 2007: Duo performance with pianist Helen Sung at The Rensselaerville Meeting Center, near Albany, NY. November 2, 2007: The Steve Wilson Quartet returns to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, for the third time. November 4, 2007: The Steve Wilson Quartet performs at Kingsboro Community College in Brooklyn, NY. February 1, 2008: Steve Wilson performs a duo concert with drummer Lewis Nash at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. 2008 - Tba: Wilson will conduct workshops and appear as Special Guest Artist at University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in '08, as well as at California State University in Stanislaus, CA. Wilson will visit the schools for several days, conduct workshops and will perform with the University jazz bands. In Greeley, he will also join with local jazz artists for area gigs. 2008 & 2009 - Tba: In 2008 and 2009, Wilson will be a part of a project celebrating the 70th Anniversary of Blue Note Records. Details are still being confirmed, but according to Steve Wilson's Management, plans are in the works for a studio recording as well as a national and international tour. The Music Director for the group will be Bill Charlap, and the band will feature Lewis Nash, Peter Washington and Nicholas Payton. Together with Wilson, they will focus on recreating Blue Note music from the 1950s and 1960s.

Other recent highlights include a recording session with Dianne Reeves for her next Blue Note release. The October 20th session took place at George Duke's recording Studio in Los Angeles, CA. Also, on October 26th, Wilson performed in Kalamazoo, MI with Billy Childs and the Ying String Quartet. The performance was the premiere of a commission, which Childs wrote for his Jazz Chamber Ensemble and the Ying String Quartet.

Ben Ratliff of The New York Times has described Steve Wilson as “among the best New York jazz has to offer," and Jim Macnie of The Village Voice has praised Wilson as “a riveting improviser." As you look ahead to coverage assignments for late 2007 and all of 2008, please keep Steve Wilson in mind. He is an artist worth speaking with about the past, present and future of jazz music.

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