As Skip Wilkins, associate professor of music, was preparing to leave for Brooklyn to record a new album, After, with bassist Scott Lee and drummer Jeff Hirshfield, he decided at the last minute to bring along some underplayed standards in case the group had any unused studio time.
His foresight paid off: The trio recorded most of the songs for After on the first day, so they had plenty of time on the second day to record the other songs Wilkins had selected. A second album, I Concentrate on You, is the result.
That impromptu recording is now out on CD; After will follow this August. Both CDs are being released on the Dreambox Media label.
“I liked it so much, I decided to put the standards album out first,” Wilkins says.
I Concentrate on You features tunes from Cole Porter, George & Ira Gershwin, and other favorites from the Great American Songbook.
Although Wilkins has been playing with Lee and Hirshfield since 1995, they only came together as the Skip Wilkins Trio a few years ago with the express purpose of playing Wilkins’ original compositions.
“It’s my music, but there are a lot of contributions from the other members,” Wilkins says.
In 2009, he composed eight new pieces for the trio, which they performed a few times before recording them for After in January 2010. Many of the pieces were written immediately following the trio’s rehearsals at Lee’s studio in Manhattan, as Wilkins left the group feeling inspired.
“On the bus on the way home, I’d be planning the next piece and I’d go home and sit right down at the piano and write it,” he says.
The title for After comes from his search for something to fill his time once his children left for college: What do to after?
The titles give some clues as to the events in Wilkins’s life that inspired them. “Goose Rocks, Five O’Clock” is dedicated to his favorite beach in Maine, and “Don’t Drink Anything Hot” refers to teaching his son to drive a stick shift.
Looking for new challenges in his life, Wilkins used the album to experiment with unusual harmonic structures, different uses of mixed meter, rhythm, and other techniques.
“The title track in particular is a challenging piece for me to play,” he notes.
Wilkins brings his composing and performing expertise into the classroom. He typically includes students in his research, and he serves as faculty mentor to those pursuing honors projects or advanced research. He also teaches the Composition Seminar, where students create and premiere their own pieces of music.
“The students learn how to gather and rehearse collaborators (in this case, musicians), and they learn how to value their accomplishments by organizing and publicizing their work in the form of public performances,” says Wilkins. “These skills apply to practically any pursuit in contemporary American business, whether it be in the arts or otherwise.”
In June, Wilkins will take up residence in Prague, where he has visited and performed many times before, for a 14-month performing, composing, and recording sabbatical. While in Europe, Wilkins will perform with many of the musicians from his 2010 CD release, Frydlant Nights, which was recorded in Prague and released on the Czech Radio Prague label.
However, he will be back on campus Sept. 2 to perform a CD release concert with the trio. They will be joined by Wilkins’s musician son, Daniel. Wilkins and his son recorded an album together with Lee and Hirshfield that will be released next February.
- For more on Skip Wilkins, see www.skipwilkinsjazz.com