Local Jazz Virtuoso Wayne Wilkinson Plays a Mean Guitar

Sep 26, 2016

Wayne Wilkinson has played jazz guitar everywhere from the White House to Carnegie Hall, and has even shared the stage with noted tenor saxophonist, former president Bill Clinton. He was a guitarist in the Air Force Falconaires and Airmen of Note bands, and now records and performs both as a soloist and with a wide array of collaborators. He lives in Colorado Springs, and is a fixture in the local jazz scene.

For our most recent episode of Air Check, 91.5 KRCC's resident jazz guru Dick Fairley invited Wilkinson into the studio to discuss his music. 

In this Interview:

On realizing he had the ability to play improvisational jazz

I played baritone horn in junior high and then I switched over to tuba in high school. Back then, in the 60s and 70s, you had all these TV shows that had theme songs, like Gilligan's Island or The Andy Griffith Show, and I would be sitting, practicing the tuba and playing by ear the theme song to The Andy Griffith Show or what have you. At that point I realized I had kind of a knack to play by ear and improvise. 

On local guitar legend Johnny Smith, who left a successful jazz career behind in New York City to open a guitar shop in Colorado Springs

A quick story that Johnny Smith told me: he said he remembers playing in the famous club Birdland, until about three o'clock in the morning. This was back in the early days, he was huge. After he finished playing at Birdland he went home, took a shower, dressed again and took off and went to play with the New York Philharmonic that morning. He was something. 

On which musician, living or dead, he'd most like to perform with 

Art Tatum. I love the way Art Tatum played piano. He was widely recognized as the greatest jazz piano player of all time... I just love the way he played, he's very fluid, especially when he did solo piano. That's kind of the same approach I took on [my album] It's A Lark. Extremely fluid. 

On Bill Clinton's Tenor Sax Skills

You know, he did a great job. I always joke with people and say he makes a better saxophone player than I would a president. 

Listen to the full interview in the player above.