Professors composition blends Blues in Greens

When the last note sounded from Jack Wilkins’ saxophone Monday night, the audience immediately leapt from their seats to offer congratulations on a job well done.

Wilkins, director of Jazz Studies at USF, premiered his new composition project,”Blues in Greens,” at a concert in USF’s Theater 2, then greeted folks afterward with a smile and a “Hey, how are you?”

The inspiration behind Wilkins’ composition was the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where he grew up and where jazz and mountain music rarely crossed paths, he said.

“I got to explore a lot of things I’ve always wanted to,” Wilkins said. “It was fun to try to put it together and find different things to use as inspiration.”

Wilkins’ individual songs reflected elements of the Blue Mountain culture, combining themes like traditional log cabin building and Whitewater Rivers with jazz-based renditions of coal mining blues and folk music traditions.

The project inspired Wilkins to explore other collaborations, he said, beginning with a trip to Sweden this summer to work on a new project that fuses jazz and Swedish folk music.

His current projects are a far cry from his early influences, Wilkins said, which include R&B artist James Brown and classic jazz musicians like Charlie Parker, Joe Lovano and John Coltrane.

Wilkins, who began playing saxophone in fifth grade, said he didn’t always envision himself doing what he does now, though.

“My older brothers thought saxophone was cool, so they got me started in it,” he said. “Now, I’ve been teaching at USF for 16 years.”

Wilkins has performed on Grammy-nominated jazz albums, was named a member of the International Association for Jazz Education Resource Team and taught “Jazzwise” summer workshops in London.

On Monday, Wilkins played alongside members of the jazz faculty and several recording artists, including guitarist Corey Christiansen, drummer Danny Gottlieb and vibraphonist John Metzger, among others.

Also sharing the stage with Wilkins was saxophonist Luis Colon, a graduate student majoring in jazz composition with dreams of making money doing what he loves, who said the lessons he’s learned from Wilkins are “amazing.”

“His writing style really reflects the way he plays, and that’s something that I really want to work on,” Colon said. “You can hear his voice in the way he writes, and it’s reflected in the way he plays – what he brings to a performance.”

Wilkins said he plans to put the finishing touches on “Blues in Greens,” which will be his fifth CD, in the next couple of months. But among all his accomplishments, he said the satisfaction gained from teaching is one that is “incredibly satisfying when people get it.”

“One of the things about teaching music, or anything, is that you have to teach the basics, you have to be able to play your instrument, know your scales and all those sorts of things,” he said. “But there is an ability to make music – to take the emotional side and create something that really moves people.”