Leading Questions: Jim Wilke

Posted 27 June, 2011 in Leading Questions - (7) comments

photo and interview by Steve Korn
view larger photo

The best advice I’ve ever received is “you’re not talking to an audience of thousands, you’re talking to thousands of audiences of one or two.”

When I was 14 I was playing alto sax in concert band and listening to Western Swing on the radio during the day and jazz late at night .

Broadcasting jazz has meant introducing others to some of the most creative musicians who ever lived.

If I could do it all over again
, I probably wouldn’t change much.

My voice is who I am.

When I look at where I’m at right now, I feel very lucky to make a living around the music I love.

The piece of music that always resonates with me is – well, can I mention two songs? “You Must Believe in Spring” and “With Every Breath I Take”….or anything by Johnny Mandel who I regard as the Schubert of American songwriters.

I see my role in Jazz as a bridge between artist and audience.

My parents were Iowa Farmers who made me feel grounded in more than one sense of the word.

Fear is to be challenged, dared.

Motivation is a deadline – (I know that’s not original but it’s true for me!)

As I get older, I’ve realized that there’s less time than I thought.

In the big scheme of things
, what really matters is doing what you believe in.

I cried when Father’s Day came a week after my Dad died.

Music has taught me another language, like Spanish or French.

People always ask me what I like among recent jazz CDs.

Discovering a new artist or recording is like meeting an intriguing person you know is going to become a friend.

Right now I’m interested in wearing t-shirts and shorts and sandals again.

Discipline is very difficult for me.

I’m not interested in pop culture or celebrities.

Change is welcome as long as it improves on the past.

When I learned music, I chose the alto saxophone because my family had one. My sister and brother had each played it before me.

I’ve never understood the appeal of songs with three chords or fewer.

Improvisation is like conversation. No one writes down or memorizes what they’re going to say in a conversation.

Less is more because it’s easier to grasp.

More is more because
sometimes it’s good to be overwhelmed.

The thing that makes me nervous when recording a show is
unexplained extraneous noise, and not seeing anything moving – like a turntable or tape reels.

If I could have made a career on an instrument, it would have been the guitar.

Some musicians don’t seem to understand, some music works better in concert than on the radio, and vice versa.

Your audience is
like a group of friends who have similar tastes and interests.

I’m happy whenever I’m listening to Dizzy or Duke, or Sarah.

I view my greatest achievement to be
live broadcasts with Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, the MJQ, Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and many others. Also the opportunity to turn people on to some of the great talent living here and playing now.

The future of jazz is to evolve and build on the past, not relive it.

A sense of humor is important because without it, one might take oneself too seriously.

7 comments to “Leading Questions: Jim Wilke”

Ruth Hellkamp, June 27th, 2011 at 4:42 pm:

  • I loved the whole article…inspiring! The picture of Jim is extraordinary, too! Jim, you’ve got “it”, when it comes to being a communicator, for sure!

butch nordal, June 27th, 2011 at 6:22 pm:

  • Gotta disagree with the “I’ve never understood the appeal of songs with three chords or fewer” statement…

    I think there were a brief few years when Bird and Diz made bebop very complex harmonically in a European way but then (mercifully) Miles and Coltrane came in with two chords (“So What” and “Milestones”) and Coltrane came in just with one chord! (“These Are my Favorite Things.”)

    This is not to mention reams of Bach and Mozart and the whole blues spectrum up to the 1930’s plus Ray Charles plus a cuppla billion hymns that can make a person cry.

    Music is a balancing act…you throw complex harmonies in and then rhythms or timbres, etc , will take a back seat…they have to, otherwise you end up with an artificially opulent music that is overloaded with stimulii.

    I’m always astonished at the jazz player’s bias that regards harmonic based music to be on a loftier, more developed plane than simple chords.

butch nordal, June 27th, 2011 at 6:34 pm:

  • WOW!..I think the statement “You’re talking to thousands of audiences of one or two.” is probably the most profund 10 word long lessons I’ve ever heard….for performers of any kind!

Jim Wilke, June 27th, 2011 at 7:08 pm:

  • Well, Butch, you’ve pointed out some serious flaws in my blanket statement, but my reference was directed at some enormously popular but banal songs as opposed to Mozart and “So What”. But you have to admit the appeal you’re speaking of is generally not due to the “tune” (melody) itself but to the development growing out of that limited palate. And for the improvising musician a richer harmonic structure offers more possibilities. A tune by Jerome Kern, Johnny Mandel or Henry Mancini has lots of intriguing twists and turns even as written. That’s why the songs I cited appeal to me so much. They represent what appeals to me, personally.

    Re: “thousands of audiences of one or two” was offered to me by an instructor at the beginning of my radio career back in the middle of the last century. I never forgot it and I passed it on to my students when I was teaching. I hope they benefited from it as much as I.

Robin Lloyd, June 28th, 2011 at 8:17 am:

  • As always, Jim, you’re an inspiration!
    (Nice work, Mr. Korn…)

Leslie Lloyd, June 28th, 2011 at 12:00 pm:

  • Great piece, Steve, and Jim, you are such a wise and wonderful soul. I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know you, and look forward to working with you for many years. You never cease to surprise and amaze me!

Katy, June 28th, 2011 at 5:11 pm:

  • Another great photo, Steve. Very cool interview as well.

    Jim, I am completely with you on “With Every Breath I Take.” From the first time I heard it, it mesmerized me. When I set out to actually learn it, it haunted me; I ate, slept, breathed and dreamt it for weeks. It took all the muscularity I had as a vocalist to cover the range and to adequately express the emotional depth of the song. I ended up recording it. One day, I’ll set it out in the world. Many thanks to Cy Coleman for such a beautiful song.

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