On Friday, October 4 at The Blue Wisp a free concert will take place that’s been a long time coming. If you’ve seen vibraphonist King Reeves and pianist Charlie Wilson perform live, you know they’re world-class jazz musicians. Yet they’ve never played together at the Blue Wisp, which due to its high profile and central location (700 Race Street) is an ideal venue for people to check out these veteran players.
The concert is free, and it runs from 6pm to 10pm. Both the early start and the lack of a cover charge are an attempt to woo the nine-to-five folks who get off work on Friday and want to either (a) try something different or (b) were curious about The Blue Wisp (or both). The show is being billed as an Evening of Duets because another talented twosome, April Aloisio on vocals and Philip Burkhead on piano, will open the show.
Then comes two of the baddest dudes around. If pianist Charlie Wilson is the best jazz musician in Cincinnati, it kind of seems like he was meant to be. As a child he met Fats Waller and heard him play in person. His mother—a singer and a pianist who was popular for decades—shared bills with Art Tatum. Early in his career Charlie recorded some sides with blues artist Amos Milburn. In the 1950s he played regularly with Don Cherry and Charlie Haden before they joined Ornette Coleman’s iconic quartet. In the 1960s he replaced Andrew Hill as the pianist for Roland Kirk. Given that background, it makes perfect sense that Charlie’s playing would incorporate virtually every phase of jazz, including stride piano, bebop, and the avant-garde, not to mention a touch of gospel. On top of that he has staggering technique matched with pinpoint accuracy.
And I can think of no better setting for Charlie Wilson work than in duets with King Reeves on vibes. King also has a rich musical history that includes jamming with Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt and leading his own band, Blue Sapphire, in the 1970s and 1980s; King also owned some clubs where Bootsy Collins and other future funk legends performed. Charlie sets the bar high when it comes to soloing, which King Reeves to relish; his competitive streak forces him to try to outdo his bandmate.
At times King Reeves and Charlie Wilson co-lead a quintet that I’ve seen play Coltrane’s A Love Supreme from beginning to end, and it was great. At the same time there’s a chemistry that occurs when the rhythm section is left out of the equation that people need to witness. Charlie Wilson and King Reeves played music together for decades, and they’ve been friends even longer. When they perform, you feel the joy of two old friends who love playing music together. Here’s some footage I shot of them playing a Thelonious Monk composition entitled “Monk’s Dream.”