SJZ Summer Fest: Kalil Wilson

Since 1990, the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest has created a space for world-class musicians to share their music with eager crowds of jazz enthusiasts and casual listeners alike. Spanning eleven indoor and outdoor stages, the 2017 Summer Fest promises to provide an immersive musical experience for all of downtown San Jose. Listeners can tap their toes to the suave swing of the Jade Leaf Stage, bob their heads to hip-hop and jazz fusion at the Boom Box Stage, and dance to the pulsating rhythms of all-star Latin bands at the Salsa Stage.

The festival also shines a spotlight on local rising stars every year. During this year’s Winter Fest, Oakland native Kalil Wilson made a lasting impression on San Jose audiences with his breakout vocal performance in Kim Nalley’s Ella Fitzgerald tribute concert. Wilson and his acoustic trio Love are returning to San Jose on August 12 to enrapture audiences on the RBC Silicon Valley Stage.

With an extensive background in opera singing and a position in UCLA’s Voice and Opera program, Wilson appeared to be poised on a path to a fruitful career in classical music. However, Wilson found himself drawn to the music that surrounded and shaped him as a child: jazz and soul. He realized the common threads of conversation and communication that tie these genres to classical vocal performance and embarked on recording an album of jazz standards and re-imagined soul classics. The album, aptly titled Easy to Love, showcases Wilson’s velvety tenor voice in a new context while retaining the power and depth of his classical training. Singing the timeless classics of the American Songbook, Wilson breathes fresh life into songs a century old with tastefully simple trio arrangements. Paying tribute to one of the masters of soul music, Wilson also included a stirring duo rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic.” The album earned widespread praise and consistent airplay on jazz radio, providing Wilson well-deserved recognition in the West Coast jazz community.

Not just satisfied with success in the studio, Wilson’s favorite way of sharing his music remains live performance. “Recorded music is wonderful, but it’s like recorded fire: it’s not the real thing,” Wilson reflects. Fueled by a live audience, Wilson further honed his jazz singing with regular gigs at San Francisco’s Club Deluxe, performing jazz standards alongside original tunes. By the end of their first year performing at the club, Wilson and his trio more than doubled their repertoire. With his current trio, Love, Wilson hopes to bring the authenticity and intimacy of a small club performance to the festival stage. Comprised of bassist Sam Adams and prodigious young talents Genius Wesley on drums and Isaiah Harwood on piano, the group will perform fresh interpretations of jazz classics as well as Wilson’s originals.

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2017 runs August 11–13. Tickets and a full lineup can be found on the Summer Fest website.

Written by Nick Panoutsos
Photography by Arabela Espinoza

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