Today’s Date: May 11, 2021
Press Release by Eugene Uman (please give author’s credit)
Who: Immanuel Wilkins Quartet
What: Live stream jazz concert and interview
Artists: Immanuel Wilkins (compositions and alto saxophone), Micah Thomas (piano), Daryl Johns (bass) and Kweku Sumbry (drums)
When: Saturday, June 5th, 2021 at 8:00 PM
Where: Access to the Event – online at www.vtjazz.org and https://www.facebook.com/VermontJazzCenter/live/
Cost – Free and Open to the public, donations accepted
Omega is the most important debut jazz recording in years. Wilkins is neither straight-ahead nor avant-garde. He operates in a fertile new zone that is both. His lyrical extremity goes back to Charlie Parker and forward to Ornette Coleman and beyond. His chops are electric
With a style that uses melodic content to fight injustice, his work will leave listeners in awe.
7 Young Jazz Giants You Need to Know, Ebony Magazine (April, 2021)
…an emotional, highly personal debut outing from a gifted musician who has succeeded in seamlessly melding fine music with a message for our times.
Vermont Jazz Center to Present Live Stream Performance of NYT Best Jazz Album of 2020 Winner, Immanuel Wilkins Quartet on Saturday, June 5th at 8:00 PM
The Vermont Jazz Center is pleased to complete its 2020-21 livestream season with a concert by the highly acclaimed Immanuel Wilkins Quartet on June 5th, 2021. This young group, each of whom is in their early to mid-twenties, has been touring, recording and creating together since their teens and has been a solid, performing ensemble for four years. The musicians are Immanuel Wilkins (compositions and alto saxophone), Micah Thomas (piano), Daryl Johns (bass) and Kweku Sumbry (drums).
The Immanuel Wilkins Quartet’s debut record, Omega, released on Blue Note and produced by Jason Moran, has received numerous “best of” awards including NPR’s Best Debut Jazz Album of 2020 and it also topped the New York Times’ Best Jazz Albums of 2020. Other accolades showered upon Wilkins include Best New Talent of 2020 by Musica Jazz. And a LetterOne Rising Stars Jazz Award where he “impressed the jury with a high level of sophistication and maturity in his playing. [Wilkins] respectfully reflects various musical influences in his performance while charting into new territory with a sense of lyricism that is reminiscent of the Jazz greats.”
The son of encouraging, musical-loving parents, one could say Wilkins’ destiny was to play the saxophone. As a 12 year old he played in a festival with Tony Williams and was twice a member of the GRAMMY All-Star High School Band. He moved to New York City from the Philadelphia area in 2015 to attend The Juilliard School and was mentored by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianist Jason Moran. Moran recommended him to Don Was, the president of Blue Note Records and the album Omega is the result of that propitious connection. Wilkin’s joined Moran for his “In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall, 1959” tour and has since worked with a diverse range of artists including Solange Knowles, Kenny Barron, Gretchen Parlato, the Count Basie Orchestra, Wynton and Delfeayo Marsalis, Orrin Evans, Jonathan Blake, Nasheet Waits, Aaron Parks, Gerald Clayton, Lalah Hathaway, Bob Dylan, Gerald Clayton, Aaron Parks, and Joel Ross; his saxophone can be heard on the vibraphonist’s 2019 Blue Note critically acclaimed debut, KingMaker.
Wilkins’ experiences of sharing the stage with jazz masters inspired him to become a positive force in music and society – he has achieved this through performance and education. As an educator, Wilkins is an adjunct professor at NYU and the New School and has given clinics at Oberlin, Yale and other universities. As a composer, Wilkins explores ways to achieve a profound spiritual and emotional impact through music. His websites says that he “aspires to bring people together through the commonality of love and the belief in this music and its lineage.” He uses musical composition as a power tool to convey significant narratives primarily about the Black experience. This vision has led him to receive commissions from The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, The Jazz Gallery Artist Residency Commission Program and The Kimmel Center and others. For example, in March of 2021, Wilkins’ group presented a commissioned piece called “Blues Blood/Black Future at Roulette” in NYC. This project “navigated the spiritual and cultural landscape of Black America” by conveying the story of Daniel Hamm, one of the Harlem Six. Hamm was an innocent teen who was falsely accused of murder in the Fruit Stand Riot of 1965 and as such was beaten while in police custody. Wilkins makes connections between current events and the civil unrest of the 1960s using the “Blues [as] a symbol of radical optimism in the face of adversity and blood as a symbol of all things ancestral/generational.”
In a recent Zoom interview with jazz blogger Marty Duda, Wilkins discussed the premise of his new recording, Omega. He said that he was trying to come up with an audible representation of what Black identity sounds like to him. He said that as a Black man he experiences two tiers of existence simultaneously, one that is made up of “super-horrific material, that is terribly graphic and explicit,” and another Black experience that is “super-hilarious, sublime and beautiful.” He explained, “our everyday lives deal with both tiers in conjunction with each other. So I’m trying to create music that audibly sounds like that. It’s audibly grotesque but also really beautiful, sublime and heavenly.” The name of the album and the names of all the compositions reflect this theme. For example, the album’s title, Omega, literally means “the end.” Wilkins says he is using the word Omega as a metaphor to represent “the end of an era.” He asks “what does the end of police brutality look like, the end of prejudice, the end of racial oppression? What does true liberation look like?” This dichotomy of experiences is explored in Wilkins’ work which revolves upon the contrasts of beauty and pain, love and injustice that he experiences as a Black man.
In the end, Wilkins says he is an optimist. In an interview with Don Was he says “I have gratitude for the newer generation” adding “we do possess the ideals to change the world socially, politically, musically. It’s always the youngest generation that takes the reigns.” He went on to say that “music has power and a large influence that [our society] can’t ignore.”
The pianist of the quartet is Micah Thomas who grew up in Columbus, Ohio. He started playing songs on the piano by ear at the age of 2, and shortly afterward he started private piano training. In 2015, Thomas received the Jerome L. Greene Fellowship from the Juilliard School and received his Master of Music (M.M.) degree in 2020. He is now performing in venues throughout the city both as a leader of his own groups and as a sideman for such luminaries as Joel Ross, Lage Lund, Giveton Gelin, Melissa Aldana, Etienne Charles, Gabe Schnider, Harish Raghavan, Stacy Dillard, and Jure Pukl. He also appeared as a guest with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in 2017 alongside Sullivan Fortner, Aaron Diehl, and Joel Wenhardt, and as a solo performer at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival. In June 2020, Thomas released his first album, Tide, which received positive reviews from the New York Journal, The New York Times, JazzTimes, and Financial Times, among others.
The bassist of the quartet is Daryl Johns who is currently attending the Manhattan School of Music. Johns is the son of drummer Steve Johns and saxophonist Debbie Keefe Johns. His first experience playing as a bassist in an ensemble was at the Vermont Jazz Center Summer Jazz Workshop in his father’s combo. At the age of 13, Johns was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Bass Competition. T.S. Monk wrote, “Daryl represents everything this music is about, his respect for the history belies his youth.” Since then, his many awards and citations include being named WBGO’s “Jazz Star of Tomorrow,” multiple Student Music Awards from DownBeat Magazine, soloist awards from the Mingus Festival, and placing as a 2013 YoungArts Finalist. Johns was featured in Bass Quarterly Magazine in 2013. He toured with Wallace Roney Quintet and performed a week at the Blue Note in New York City with guitarist Larry Coryell Trio. Other high-profile gigs include tours with Lenny White and Curtis Fuller and a jazz influenced album with vocalist Macy Gray.
The quartet’s drummer is Kweku Sumbry, a multi-percussionist from Washington, DC who is grounded in the traditions of the djembe orchestra; he also builds djembes from shells he receives from West Africa. He began his studies as a toddler under the tutelage of his uncle, Mahiri Fadjimba Keita, founder of Farafina Kan, an intergenerational professional West African Drum and Dance Company based in DC. He attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and received his bachelors and masters degrees from the New School in New York. In an interview with the Jazz Gallery, Kweku sums up his approach saying “Musically, I’m coming from a folkloric tradition where we’re literally playing for people who are dancing. So with my own music, I’m always thinking of dance. We’re going to play a lot of my music, which brings together many of my favorite styles and sounds. Think Fela Kuti meets Steve Coleman…John Coltrane meets James Brown.” Kweku has performed in Guinea, Senegal, Ghana, Australia, New Zealand, Amsterdam, and Turkey and throughout the United States. He has performed or recorded with Ambrose Akinmusire, Dayna Stephens, Yosvany Terry, Cyrus Chestnut, Reggie Workman, Harish Rhagavan, Jure Pukl and many others.
The Immanuel Wilkins Quartet clearly proves that the future of jazz is healthy and in good hands. Don Was, president of Blue Note Records says of their debut effort: “I think you have created a classic album that’s going to mean something to a lot of people for decades to come.” Tune in to the Vermont Jazz Center’s website or their Facebook Live page on Saturday, June 5th at 8:00 PM to hear for yourself a classic quartet in its prime.
The VJC is grateful for the generosity of the sponsors for this event: the McKenzie Family Charitable Trust, Dianne and Steve Lieberman, Davis Ellis and Ann Greenawalt of Ellis Music, and Ed Anthes and Mary Ellen Copeland. The Jazz Center thanks them all for their commitment to sustaining live music and for their proactive engagement in our community. Publicity is underwritten by The Commons and The Brattleboro Reformer. The VJC is also grateful to the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Humanities Council and New England Foundation of the Arts for their support and increased efforts to stabilize the existence of arts organizations during the pandemic.
Live streaming for this event is cost-free and open to the public. Donations to the Vermont Jazz Center will be gratefully accepted. Admission to VJC in-person concerts is usually offered on a sliding fee scale from $20 to $40 per person. The VJC now offers our events without charge on line, but donations are welcome and just a click away. Please give generously and support live music. Access to the event can be found online at www.vtjazz.org and at https://www.facebook.com/VermontJazzCenter/live/.
Tiny Desk Concert:
Live at the Kennedy Center
Here’s a link to the record:
The Jazz Center thanks them all for their commitment to sustaining live music and for their proactive engagement in our community. Publicity is underwritten by The Commons and The Brattleboro Reformer. The VJC is also grateful to the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Humanities Council and New England Foundation of the Arts for their support and increased efforts to stabilize the existence of arts organizations during the pandemic.
Publicity is underwritten by The Commons and The Brattleboro Reformer. The VJC is also grateful to the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Humanities Council for their support and increased efforts to stabilize the existence of arts organizations during the pandemic.