Other Places: Kenny Wheeler

Trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer Kenny Wheeler, now in his 80s, is a man of so few words that he is nearly silent, but John Fordham of The Guardian managed to persuade Wheeler to talk about himself for an article. Anyone interested in the unceasingly searching trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer will want to read Fordham’s piece. Here’s an excerpt:

He doesn’t even call himself a composer, but someone who “takes pretty songs and joins them up.” The soft-spoken Toronto-born musician has been sketching his enigmatic scenes for over half a century now, in which period – to his surprise – they’ve been massaged or creatively subverted by A-list jazz artists from the late Sir John Dankworth to sax stars Jan Garbarek and Evan Parker. Despite his 80 years, he retains his uniquely pure and melodically startling flugelhorn sound, and still composes profusely.

To read the whole thing, go here.
This video features Wheeler soloing with the George Gruntz big band on tour in Japan in the late 1980s. The tune is one of Wheeler’s best known, “Everybody’s Song But My Own.” Gruntz is the pianist, Chris Hunter the alto saxophonist. Mike Richmond is on bass, Paul Motian on drums. I recognize Tom Varner on French horn, but don’t have the names of the other musicians. This is a generous helping of Wheeler’s playing.

For an evaluation from the Rifftides archives of one of Wheeler’s albums and another honoring him, go here.

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  1. says

    For sure I can see Marvin Stamm on trumpet, Art Baron on trombone, and Dave Taylor on bass trombone. And maybe Ray Anderson on trombone, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky on alto saxophone, and Larry Schneider on tenor saxophone.

  2. Peter Levin says

    Many thanks for posting this clip, which (among other things) is a reminder of the remarkable combinations of musicians Gruntz has assembled over the years. The other French horn player is Sharon Freeman, the alto soloist is the British musician Chris Hunter, behind him during his solo in the trombone section is Ray Anderson (along with Art Baron and bass trombonist Dave Taylor), the rest of the sax/flute section includes Bob Malach, Larry Schneider, the German Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky and Howard Johnson is on baritone sax and (get this–visible at 3:53) the trumpet section is Marvin Stamm, Arturo Sandoval and the German Manfred Schoof. The year is probably 1988.

  3. says

    This was a very fun tour. It was 1988. The tour was Japan-Hong
    Kong-Singapore-& then around the world to Nancy, France, and ending up in Berlin, if my memory is right! And yes, Sheila Jordan, Motian, Gruntz, Richmond, me, Sharon Freeman, Stamm, Schoof, Sandoval (still in Cuba then), Taylor, Anderson, Baron (Art took me to a wonderful tiny sushi place in Tokyo, where he had been about 8 years earlier; the chef remembered him!), Howard J., Petrovsky, Malach, Schneider, Hunter. What a great bunch of characters. Hanging with Paul Motian was wonderful. Just e-mailed Dave Taylor the other day, & he had just had dinner with George Gruntz that night! I did a nice series of duos with George and 3 other Swiss pianists on my ’98 CD, “The Swiss Duos,” now out on iTunes.
    Thanks for putting this up! In a “Straight no Chaser” YouTube video from that tour, there’s a nice solo by me in there….
    PS–And yes, I LOVED listening to Kenny Wheeler every night–“Everybody’s Song But My Own” is such a great tune. I did it later with my own groups, and still do occasionally. I also remember many of us bought a lot of nice tailored jackets in Hong Kong. Within a few years—way too small!
    Best to all!

  4. says

    Everyone’s recollection below re: personnel is correct. This was an interesting and fun tour, as Tom Varner remembers. There were some funny incidents as well. Tom will remember Sharon Freeman getting angry at Arturo in our first rehearsals because he blew a loud high note in her ear. He got an earful himself from Sharon–hilarious!
    Kenny Wheeler is one of the greatest and most unique solosists ever! Hearing him every night on the tours we shared was always a delight and a highlight of every concert. It seems I later inherited some of the tunes upon which he soloed after he left the band. I never felt I reached the level of creativity that Kenny did on these tunes, I’m sure because I always had Kenny’s sound in my head and his playing was “the ultimate” in my mind. Yes–I do revere Kenny Wheeler to the highest!
    George always had a unique band and in the years since I joined the band in 1987 I have heard some magnificent playing from a number of great soloists, tenor saxophonist Bob Malach being one of the best and most unsung; trumpeter Palle Mickelborg being another. My relationship with George evoked my creative juices and led to my eventually leaving the studio scene by 1990, embarking solely on a jazz career. I have much for which to thank George. This was a great tour, and I thank you, Doug, for bringing Kenny’s YouTube performance to everyone. Abrazos, amigo!

  5. Larry Walker says

    Those that admire Kenny Wheeler’s music will, I am sure, be interested to know that the album “Windmill Tilter”, which was referred to in John Fordham’s interview with Kenny, has at last been issued on cd by the UK-based operation, BGO Records. Copies of the original vinyl album have been much sought after but very hard to find over the years so this is the chance to now hear an early example of Kenny’s composing prowess. John Dankworth’s Orchestra on this recording included up and coming stars such as Mike Gibbs, John McLaughlin and Dave Holland and he deserves praise for his encouragement and providing Kenny with this opportunity.