A Snapshot of Multifaceted Alto Man Rob Wilkerson
One listen to masterful altoist and Selmer Artist Rob Wilkerson’s deeply expressive, original, and enchanting album, “Nest” will make it abundantly clear that Rob is not just another beboppin’ alto man.
Although his original work favors subtlety over flash and flair, when it comes time to burn, Wilkerson can cut heads with the best of them. How else does a guy become the lead alto in one of the world’s most prestigious big bands, North Texas University’s One O’Clock Band? With his auspicious beginnings, Rob’s gone on to play the world’s most prestigious venues while holding down the lead alto spot in Michael Bublé’s stellar band.
And Rob continues to keep good company as evidenced by his associations with the Village Vanguard Orchestra, Joe Lovano, Jim McNeely, James Moody, Jon Gordon, Randy Johnston, and Chris Cheek among many others. A gifted music maker – and a great photographer to boot (you can see some of his photos on his Facebook artist page), Wilkerson is the epitome of what it means to be a true artist.
Doron Orenstein: What was it that inspired you to make music your life?
Rob Wilkerson: I grew up in Albuquerque, NM, and was fortunate to have some really fantastic band directors and open minded musicians around that gave me a lot of opportunities to play. I was able to try a lot of things out on gigs, which I think is a rarity these days. And of course lots of listening! Charlie Parker, Cannonball, Coltrane, Sonny, etc…
DO: What do you find yourself practicing the most these days?
RW: As always, I find a lot of my time is taken with maintenance practice (scales, pitch, articulation, vibrato). I’ve also been busy with some other bands, so I’ve found myself practicing that music as well. I’ve been recently comforted by the fact that we can practice things and make them better.
DO: What have you been listening to lately?
RW: I just bought the James Farm CD (Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Matt Penman, and Eric Harland) and am enjoying that. Also, have been listening and playing soprano along with Arthur Rubinstein playing the Chopin Nocturnes. Great for pitch and ear.
Just got the new recording of Double Sextet and 2×5 by Steve Reich (Bang on a Can and Eighth Blackbird). I actually won a Boosey and Hawkes online drawing and got a signed score of 2×5, so I’m really looking forward to spending some time with that.
AND, I just dug out Chris Potter’s first CD Presenting Chris Potter. I’m glad to say it’s still very good!
DO: What’s been one of the highlights of your musical career to date?
RW: A recent highlight is playing my first Monday with the Village Vanguard Orchestra. There was a slight scheduling snafu that led to me being called to sub at the very last minute. (like 20 minutes before the gig!) I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I jumped in a cab and raced on down. Playing second alto to Dick Oatts is one of the greatest places to be as a saxophonist, and the band was fantastic, of course.
DO: What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve been given over the course of your playing career?
RW: I’ll give two:
- Be nice!
- The music “business”, or community, is incredibly small. There is always a benefit from helping others and bringing more musicians into your world. Closing doors and alienating people is rarely a good idea.
DO: What’s the next musical frontier for Rob Wilkerson?
RW: I hope to be able to continue to juggle all the things that I enjoy musically (jazz and classical saxophone, flute, clarinet, etc.) and be fortunate enough to make a living at it!
I have two projects in mind that I would like to record. The first is a little more of a standard blowing date, and the other is a little more involved compositionally. Maybe some additional horns and strings. The dualities that we all face: spontaneity and control, improvisation and composition.
DO: For those new to your music, which recording would you suggest they pick up?
RW: As with all recordings, my two recordings are a moment in time, and I feel like they both tell stories about where I was musically at the time. That being said, I’m very happy with “Nest.”
DO: What’s your saxophone equipment setup?
RW: I have played Selmer saxophones for many years.
- On alto, I am currently going back and forth between my Series II and my new Reference 54.
- For years I’ve played a Meyer 6M with a Vandoren Optimum ligature.
- Reeds are Vandoren Java 3 1/2.
- With my Series III Soprano I play a rubber Otto Link 7 * with Vandoren Java 3 1/2 reeds.