Dan Wilkins to bask in the ‘Moonglow’ in Jim Thorpe
BY JIM RADENHAUSEN
The Dan Wilkins Quartet will preview its upcoming album during a show Friday evening at Vic’s Jazz Loft, located at The Stabin Museum on West Broadway, Jim Thorpe.
Aside form Wilkins on tenor and soprano saxophones, the quartet features Jon Ballantyne on piano, Adrian Moring on bass and Bill Goodwin on drums.
The quartet, Wilkins said, “is significant to me for several reasons, largely as Bill has been a mentor to me and Adrian since we were budding musicians at 14 or 15. Bill has had a wide-ranging career, but he’s best known for 40 years playing with saxophonist Phil Woods.”
In the last two years, Wilkins, Moring and Goodwin performed as a trio, occasionally adding another player. Ballantyne, a prior Wilkins collaborator, was a perfect fit.
“Jon has a wide yet in-depth approach to the music,” Wilkins said, “and I love hearing stories about his time playing with Joe Henderson, a hero of mine.”
The quartet’s album “Moonglow,” planned for a spring release, includes special guests.
“I took a different approach than previous albums, arranging music from bebop and songbook traditions, giving them a personal touch,” Wilkins said. “Music from Parker, Monk, Leonard Bernstein, and familiar standards such as ‘Moonglow’ and ‘Spring is Here.’”
Raised in a jazz household, Wilkins heard music from his dad Skip - a jazz-pianist with 15-plus albums as a leader or co-leader to his credit - and older sister Emily.
“My sister took pretty traditional classical piano lessons,” said Wilkins, born in Colorado and raised in Emmaus/Macungie. “Her recitals exposed me to classical music I love today.”
Early on, Wilkins, now residing in Macungie, followed in grandfather Bud’s footsteps by taking drum lessons. Though he enjoyed the experience and learned a solid foundation, “I struggled with the coordination and focus,” he said.
Wilkins then took up saxophone. “Something about it clicked for me. I had a great teacher, Neil Wetzel, who heads the music program at Moravian University. Now we sit next to each other, performing with the Water Gap Jazz Orchestra.”
Much of Wilkins’ musical upbringing centered around the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, with the annual Celebration of the Arts festival as a centerpiece.
“I grew up hearing legends like Phil Woods, David Liebman and Bob Dorough play there,” said Wilkins, a COTA performer on multiple occasions. In 2007, he attended a performance and master class by Liebman and pianist Marc Copland. Liebman invited Wilkins to his home, where he gave him “the saxophone lesson.”
Liebman and wife Caris influenced Wilkins’ interest in Manhattan School of Music. While attending the latter from 2009 to 2013, Wilkins met musicians such as Justin DiCioccio, Steve Wilson and Rich Perry. Liebman and Phil Markowitz ran the graduate program.
“I found my first New York City gigging experiences with my classmates in a quintet, Colony, focused on original music. I started to find my compositional voice with them.”
Compositional voice, along with creative process, rank among the most important lessons Wilkins learned from his dad. “Listening to him work out ideas shaped my own process. We both have a philosophical bent. Our collaborations are largely founded on discussion.”
Of the four albums Wilkins and his dad have recorded, two feature Skip’s original music: 2012’s “Father and Son” and 2019’s “Czech Wishes.” Wilkins and his dad recently played shows around Prague and on the Moravian Czech countryside.
The pair’s albums “Someday” (2019) and “In the Stars” (2022) focus on somewhat-overlooked music from the Great American Songbook. A third album, due in 2024, features, as do the two aforementioned sets, Tony Marino on bass and Goodwin on drums.
A teacher for 15-plus years, he‘s “happy to be moving up to the collegiate level now,” with adjunct faculty positions at Lafayette, Kutztown University and Allentown’s Muhlenberg College.
On the recording front, two albums feature Wilkins’ own music: a 2015 Dan Wilkins Ensemble set and a 2021 title with Horizons Quartet. The latter features veteran bassist Gene Perla, who has played with acts such as Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Cobb and Miles Davis.
Wilkins’ recent career highlights include performing with musicians such as Benny Benack III, Adam Nussbaum and Jimmy Macbride.
Wilkins hopes to bring his groups to more New York stages and begin touring Europe regularly. “I feel blessed to continue the traditions of my community.”