June, 2019 — Success does not happen overnight, rather it is a process over a lifetime, says saxophonist Steve Wilson. His long list of accomplishments include over 150 recordings, tours all over the U.S and Europe, a teaching position at Juilliard, and his most recent album release. He says he continues to captivate audiences because he continues to learn and grow.
There are moments in people’s lives which become a turning point. Wilson’s passion for jazz began at the young age of twelve, during a music festival with his father. Watching Cannonball Adderley and Stanley Turrentine in person created an impression that he has never forgotten. Young Wilson could not have foreseen he would grow up to be known around the world for his jazz talent. What he discovered was a burning passion for the jazz culture.
Building a career
This began his path in jazz. Wilson took every opportunity to learn. He owes his early interest to mentors like high school and college band teachers, who were also professional musicians. He continued to actively pursue talented individuals in his passion to absorb jazz. That dogged approach created opportunity to be mentored from some of the greatest talents in the jazz community.
Steve sees these connections as a key for success. Relationships with masters of the industry opened up doors with some of New York’s greatest musicians, such as legendary drummer Elvin Jones and saxophonist and composer Benny Carter.
Wilson himself continuously studies the rich history of jazz. As an educator, Wilson imparts this wisdom to his students. “It’s important to learn as much about the subject as we can, to make us better musicians”. His dedication to learning the history of jazz comes through his work clearly.
Wilson describes his mentors and his studies as “inspiration”. While he drew from these contemporary mentors and historical talents, he has applied his personal style and passion for jazz to produce amazing records that are all his own.
Chances of a lifetime
By constantly being open to new opportunities, he has gained experiences of a lifetime. From soloing for the Queen of England, to a six-day birthday jam session blowout across NY, Wilson describes his Japan tours as the most incredible. Wilson has now traveled to Japan nearly forty times.
“The typical jazz fan there will show up with all the CDs and recordings you’ve been on, asking you to sign them. They know all your body of work. The first time I went there was for a Mt Fuji Jazz Festival. I was a young musician, seeing all my heros, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Freddie Hubbard. Being around all these incredible musicians. And seeing these audiences react like it was a rock concert. Little old ladies in the front row smiling laughing to the music. I had never seen an audience like that before. seeing how this music can move people. “
The Japanese audience highlights the responsibility Wilson takes with his music. “We are sharing something bigger than ourselves. What is music for? To lift each other up, to make society better, bring us together, unite us across demographic and philosophical lines. When we perform, we are serving humanity. For me that’s what it’s all about..”
He enjoys a satisfaction in doing what he loves every day, and feels part of a bigger purpose in life to inspire his audience. The core to build a career as a musician, says Wilson, is maintaining that passion and love for the music.
This month in the JAZZ ROOM
This journey has lead Wilson to his ninth album as a leader, “Sit Back Relax & Unwind”. Wilson was approached with a set of tunes and was given the freedom to make them his own. He describes the album style as “not straight ahead Jazz”. Harkening back to the sound music lovers seek when they pull out the old LPs, he was asked to produce it as an analog recording. For that reason, the music has a warmer and more unified sound.
Giving back to the next generation of jazz – at JazzArts Camp
As a passionate educator, he enjoys giving back to the upcoming jazz community, just as it gave so much to him. Steve Wilson is an educator at Juilliard, and is excited to return again as an adjunct at UNC. This month, JazzArts Charlotte is excited to offer Wilson as guest clinician at JazzArts Music Camp. He will be bringing a world of experience to our very own budding musicians.