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By James Walker, Jr.
Chicago Trumpet Star Speaks Out with James Walker, Jr.
"One on One"
June 27, 2008
J-Dub (James Walker): Corey, thanks for taking time out from your busy schedule to talk with us today.
C-Dub (Corey Wilkes): My pleasure.
J-Dub: Corey, give the readers some information about your background and musical training.
C-Dub: It all started when I was ten years old, and actually it started before then with my ears being nurtured by my parents and being around good music: blues, jazz, funk, kind of helped me to develop my style. Later on, when I was playing in concert band, I would always hear the jazz band and I thought it was really hip. I loved the sound. No one was a jazz head in my family, but hearing that sound over and over persuaded me to join the jazz band when I was in 7th grade. It then blossomed over the years and I started taking it more seriously and began listening to records and meeting professionals such as Clark Terry, James Moody and Jon Faddis. These were early mentors who pushed me along the way to where I am at today.
J-Dub: What high school did you attend, and did you perform in the Jazz Band there?
C-Dub: I went to Rich South High School in Richton Park and had a teacher who really pushed us. From jump street, our first semester, we had to write a jazz solo. Not transcribe, write our own solo from scratch. I thought that was some intimidating shit at a time when I only knew the scales.
J-Dub: From Rich South, did you obtain professional training in college of music school?
C-Dub: I use to follow cats around the Jazz Showcase like Roy Hargrove and Payton (Nicholas). I latched onto Hargrove and my father showed me an newspaper article where he was playing the Chicago Jazz Festival at 25, younger than I am now. I didn't know anything about him but I picked up his cd and really liked the music because it was kind of in the bag of the stuff I was hearing. He was coming out of that "old school" hard bop concept mentality with a blues vibe. That was always something I dug about the music.
J-Dub: It sounds like Roy had an early influence on your career.
C-Dub: Yes, as far as peers, somebody being close to my age bracket, he was someone I latched on to. Not knowing the history of jazz at that time, I began to notice that everybody latched on to someone about 10 to 15 years older. He was someone I could relate to. I was able to rap with him backstage about different things and that's how I learned about the Berklee (world famous music school in Boston)scholarship. He encouraged me to try out for the brass scholarship tour. By the time I tried out for it 10 years later, it was the U.S. scholarship tour. I went to the auditions, I did very well, and thought I would qualify for a half scholarship. I jammed on three numbers and afterwards, they talked to my father, and a few months later, I got the letter of a full ride to Berklee. I spent my time at Berklee studying with Tiger Okoshi and a classical trumpet player, Charlie Lewis.
I was there about a year and a half, trying to hang around as many professional as I could. I would see Roy every time he came to town and one day we had lunch and he said "Yo, why are you still here? You don't want to get stuck in this Berklee thing. These cats will eat your soul being in this vibe." Over the years, I saw what he meant. I watched cats who did stay and never did anything in the profession. I went to school with John Mayer and one of my best friends was James Hardy Martin. He's head sound engineer for Mary J Blige, and he stayed for three and a half years. School was good for developing techniques but you really needed to get your "feet wet" by getting out there and playing.
J-Dub: Was trumpet your first love?
C-Dub: I played around on the keyboard and guitar but I was never really serious. I never really had any structure. I tickled around with it and it almost hindered me from getting a trumpet. My father said "I have a keyboard sitting around the house and you aren't playing that." I had to convince him to get me a horn.
J-Dub: What musician, living or deceased would you like to play with?
C-Dub: BIRD!!!!!!!! And Louie Armstrong of course. "Pops" had such a tremendous vibe. His soul and energy off the record is so profound. I can imagine how much an affect it would have encouraged me.
J-Dub: Corey, you have the reputation of being an eclectic musician. You aren't boxed into one genre. Is that by design? Or do you prefer one genre?
C-Dub: That's because I'm ADD (laughter). I love playing straight ahead, I love playing art. I prefer a funky vibe. When you check out the new album ("Drop It"), you'll hear mostly original stuff. My bag is something with a pocket. Funky and blues is something that everybody understand the feel. It's feel good music. I grew up listening to James Brown. That's my thing. I was always dealing with music that came from a dance aesthetic. Historically, jazz was a thing that dealt with dance and I wanted to bring that vibe back because I think we lost some of our audience to a certain extent because it got over peoples's heads.
Some musicians began putting jazz on a pedestal and lost focus of what the music was suppose to be about - having a good time and feeling good. You have a lot of cats now who put cats down for not being able to play changes. Many of these guys don't have"IT." "IT" is that quality that you try to tune into. That's what attract people to you. Before I even entered high school, a veteran musician during a session declared that I had "IT." He encouraged me to start taking the profession more seriously, and listen to more records and take it to the next level
J-Dub: It's quite obvious by watching you perform that you do have "IT." One can feel your energy and I'm sure you are energized by the audience.
C-Dub: That's what I tell people all the time, we just reciprocate. I've played before dead crowds and the shit comes out dead. If the vibe is off, I can technically play the notes but the music isn't going to be good.
J-Dub: Over the past few years, your name seems to always be in the media. How do you find time to do all that you are doing?
C-Dub: I don't know. I'm always doing something. My boy Maurice just told me yesterday about seeing something about me in Urban Magazine. I learned early on that if you are true to the Music, it will take care of you and you will find time to fit everything in.For years, I didn't have anybody paying attention to what I was doing, but as long as you stick in there, and remain honest and do what you love with passion, you will be alright at the end.
J-Dub: Do you plan to maintain Chicago as your base, or will you follow your buddy Maurice(Brown ) and move to New York?
C-Dub: The New York scene isn't like it use to be. There are other opportunities there but I believe when my cd drops (June,17,2008) it will speak for itself. My career has already taken me over the world and I'm a pseudo New Yorker anyway because I'm there about fifty percent of the time. I still play with Roy Hargrove's big band, Will Calhoun, Greg Osby, Antoine Roney - these are my guys and I've established a reputation out there. Once the record drops, I plan on during more touring and I'll be playing out there as well.
J-Dub: Tell us more about the new cd.
C-Dub: Actually, I wasn't planning on it coming out like this. I was planning a more straight ahead album but Delmark (record label) wanted 75 to 80% originals. I took some of the stuff I had half written and some that I had written and rearranged to fit my present voice and the stuff that I write really isn't really straight ahead and never has been and I realized that when I was in college. The music that I write and that's in my heart is really "groove" oriented.
J-Dub: Is that the type of music that you have in your ipod or mp3 player?
C-Dub: I like hip hop but I don't deal with most rap. I like Mos Def, Common, Roots, Dwele, stuff like that. Jazz, I listen to it all but my most favorites are Terrence(Blanchard), Nicholas Payton of course Roy(Hargrove).
J-Dub: Americans really don't support jazz like it should be supported, why?
C-Dub: It's sad. I have to travel overseas to really make my real "dough"
J-Dub: I know Maurice is your "ace," are the two of during anything together in the near future?
C-Dub: We are working on some stuff, but I don't know if "Double Trouble" will be performing together. We are suppose to do the Hyde Park Jazz Festival together, but that hasn't been finalized. We're working on production stuff and that's important. We are working on tracks with DJs all around.
J-Dub: It seems like jazz musicians never retire, they just play until the die. What's your plan for the future.
C-Dub: I don't plan to play forever. I don't want to have to try playing every night when I'm 60 years old. That's hard. There's more to music than just playing. I'm investing and always looking at was to be involved in all aspects of music.
J-Dub: One of the things that I appreciate about you is how you share the bandstand with you colleagues. I've seen you as the leader and sideman. You always allow your colleagues to express themselves.
C-Dub: Art Blakey is the best example of that. He always mentored young musicians. That's one of my all time favorite groups.The feel they gave the music was so beautiful. It should be like that all the time.
J-Dub: Who's performing with you next weekend at Closeup 2's Smooth Jazz Festival?
C-Dub: I'll have my "Black Slang" group: Kevin Nabors on the Tenor, vocalist Yaw, "Big Ant" on drums, Junius Paul on Bass, Frankie Blaze on guitar, Will Kurk on keys, and Muntu dancers including my wife, Mashaune. Ten pieces in all. I won't make any money but it will be fun music. It'll give me an opportunity to show people the untruncated version of this group.
J-Dub: One thing about Chicago, we have such fine musicians. I rave about Chicago's musicians everywhere I go.
C-Dub: That's another reason why I stay here. When cats come in from out out town, they are blown away by the quality of our musicians. I pretty much have all I want, except warm weather year round. My name is out front here. I don't have to get away. I have enough places that I consistently can get away to.
J-Dub: Finally, what parting words do you have for Jazzchicago.net readers?
C-Dub: Just thank you for the support over the years. Sometimes it's like a dream to me but I''m just here to take care of the music and to catapult it and help it out. Jazz defintely is NOT dead.
J-Dub: On behalf, of Jazzchicago.net, thanks for giving us an opportunity to talk with you and best of luck with the new cd. Stay as humble as you are and it will take you a long way.
C-Dub: Anytime, and thank you.
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