Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Todd Weaver
If you’re aware of the contemporary jazz coming out of L.A. right now, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the tones of Sam Wilkes’ bass, perhaps on Sam Gendel’s Music for Saxofone and Bass on which Wilkes was the titular bass.
The self-titled nature of the Wilkes’ new album is fitting, as it seems to have come out of Wilkes’ visceral need to fully give voice to himself as an artist; tellingly, in the press materials he sent us, he describes the sound of his bass as “Sam Wilkes.” In an extremely expressive genre, Wilkes has made an intimately expressive record. We sat down with him to discuss it, to find out more about jazz in L.A., and his process of creating music.
What’s the LA jazz scene like right now? What’s the vibe like in the clubs?
It’s special… very supportive, hard working… it’s fun. There are just so many incredible musicians, who have their own kind of micro communities that are interconnected within the bigger community, who are all working their freaking tails off and doing their own thing…I love it a lot.
At venues/clubs/rooms where people are going to see improvised music… I’m noticing more that it’s getting quiet, as in people are focused, and listening.
How would you describe the artistic process of becoming band leader for the first time on this album?
I’ve always been a collaborator, and after I graduated college, I was seeking to make a career in the pop world as a musical director (whose role is really to communicate the artists vision to the band, and to facilitate it’s expression, along with contracting, arranging, leading rehearsals etc) …but that kind of naturally diverted into what I’m doing now.
Doing the music director thing had a huge impact on me, and I think still helps define many of my core qualities as a musician. I’d say that working in that world + my studies at college (USC) helped me develop the technique to write, record, produce, arrange, and lead ensembles in almost any style I wanted…which proved to be crucial when I went through some shit and began writing and recording this original music to deal with it all, and as a result became a band leader.
What era in jazz do you think has the biggest influence on your style?
I can’t really say… but I’ll offer these 2 record labels, because their catalogs had an indelible impact on me:
It was super cathartic. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but it was! the creation of this music was a coping mechanism and an outlet.