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Take Five With Jon Wirtz

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Jon Wirtz:

Arriving on the Denver scene just a few years ago, Jon Wirtz has since performed for millions of people, both locally and nationally. Over the past eight years he has performed mainly as a sideman, having worked with Grammy Award-winning producer Malcolm Burn on multiple occasions, and shared the stage with artists including Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Robbie Krieger (The Doors), Melissa Etheridge, Matt Morris, Charlie Sexton and even Justin Timberlake. In addition to performing with Matt Morris on The Late Show with David Letterman, Wirtz has also appeared on the CBS Early Morning Show's "2nd Cup Cafe," Ellen (the Ellen DeGeneres Show), and Lopez Tonight (George Lopez). For the past three years he has studied under Art Lande, an internationally respected jazz educator and Grammy-nominated pianist/composer.

Despite these successes, Wirtz is more driven than ever to share his creativity with listeners all over the world. In the fall of 2010, he took one more step in that direction by displaying his versatility on his debut solo album entitled Sea Level, which showcases original compositions as well as his own unique interpretations on a few choice covers. While the release is still gaining attention, the response thus far has been very positive. "Playing solo allows me to forget the rules, or even make my own rules. There's no boundaries. It's like building my own little world on stage."

Instrument(s):

Piano.

Teachers and/or influences? Still studying under Art Lande. Influences include Miles Davis, Brad Mehldau, The Bad Plus, Happy Apple, Rage Against the Machine, Keith Jarrett, Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Art Lande, Dave Cieri, Justin Adams, Kneebody, Thelonious Monk, family, friends, a Higher Power, music, art, life...

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I was eight years old and I learned that it could actually be a profession. After working a few "real jobs" during my teens and 20s, there was no doubt that music was gonna be how I made a living, no matter what it took.

Your sound and approach to music: I believe that you have to remain in the moment, regardless of what style or genre you're playing. Serve the Song, not the Ego.

Your teaching approach: Teach not only what they need to learn, but what they want to learn. They have to enjoy it or it defeats the whole purpose.

Your dream band:

Such a tough question...

Drums—Jorge Rossy, Chris Daves, Dave King, Eric Harland or Carter Beauford;

Trumpet—Miles or Terence Blanchard;

Bass—Ron Carter, Avishai Cohen or Derrick Hodge;

Sax: John Coltrane or Chris Potter.

This is too tough!

Road story: Your best or worst experience: The coolest gig I ever played was The David Letterman Show. I don't get normally get nervous for gigs, but that one went by in the blink of an eye. I remember taking the stage and hearing Paul Schaeffer and the band rocking away. The next thing I knew Dave was thanking us for coming on the show. I have almost zero memory of the performance itself, it went by so quick.

Favorite venue:

Playing The George Lopez Show was awesome, as the band was treated great by the whole staff. The sound was great, and the crowd was off the hook.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? In my personal discography, I'd have to say my own album, Sea Level, because it was an opportunity to perform original solo piano pieces. As a sideman, I'm most proud of my work on John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light's Beautiful Empty.

The first Jazz album I bought was: Thelonious Monk: The Composer. When I first put it on I thought, "This guy can't play!" Obviously I was too young to understand and appreciate his genius (as well as basic jazz harmony).

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I'm sincerely trying to be myself, and move my own sound and abilities forward. I try to experiment constantly and never take the same approach towards the same song twice.

Did you know...

Despite currently residing in Denver, CO, I still can't root for the Broncos. I was born and raised in the Cleveland area and still have not been able to forgive John Elway for breaking my heart as a child. Twice.

CDs you are listening to now:

Vijay Iyer—Solo;

Brad Mehldau, Places;

Gregory Alan Isakov, The Sea, That Gambler and This Empty Northern Hemisphere.

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Going through exciting changes that are revitalizing the music. Some of the younger musicians are doing some very cool things (Aaron Parks, Robert Glasper, etc).

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