|Interview date||1st January 0001|
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Interviewer: Okay, so, if we could just start with you stating your name and spelling your name for me, please?
Wilk: My name is Andrew Wilk. “Wilk” is spelt W-I-L-K.
Interviewer: And could you tell me your date of birth and your place of birth, please.
Wilk: Okay. Twenty-fifth of April nineteen-forty-eight, and I was born in the basement of Edith Grove, Chelsea. Um… yeah, London.
Interviewer: Okay, thank you. And could you just tell me a little bit about your own background in music and your parents’, please?
Wilk: Okay. My parents’ background, to start with, was unusual. The surname ‘Wilk’ is actually Polish; it’s not Wilk with an E or an E-S, the English form. My father was a politician in pre-war Poland, [he] spent the war in a labour camp in Siberia, and, something he survived and was eventually repatriated to Britain with the soldiers who had been fighting [Erwin] Rommel in North Africa to the Polish government in exile in London. And so, I was born here. And they had no musical background whatsoever, apart from… nope, I don’t think my dad had even owned a record of any sort. My mother liked opera and listened to Mario Lanza and all that kind of stuff, so I didn’t grow up in a musical household. Nobody played an instrument. I’m completely self-taught, and I started like most schoolboys at the age of about fourteen, getting a guitar for my birthday, joining a band, teaching myself to play, and then gigging semi-professionally. And playing music is, as they say, the most fun you can have with your clothes on. It’s absolutely an experience like no other, being in a band, and an audience of maybe three or four hundred people, and there’s four or five or six of you up there making music together. And it’s quite an extraordinary thing to do. A lot of people have only listened to music. If you actually make it, you realise that it’s something we do, humans, that I think anything else stops.
Interviewer [02:31]: Yeah.
Wilk: It’s got a long history. It’s probably got a history of a couple of million years, I would guess, but music’s always had a special place in my life. I’ve always listened to it, I’ve always, um… well, briefly, I suppose for about ten years, I played it. And then the world of work took over and the band I was playing in was offered a residency in Germany, as happened to some other famous people. Half of us had steady jobs and the other half had dead-end jobs – they wanted to go to Germany for the residency, the other half of us didn’t. We had jobs and girlfriends and such like, so the band broke up. So that was an end to that time in my career. And then the world of work came along. I just became a listener. I bought a hi-fi. [I] followed just about every kind of music in the world. I’ve got music from all different countries, different cultures, different languages, and I listened to just about everything, until I discovered modern jazz - modern jazz music of the fifties and sixties in America, and it changed my life, literally. I lost all that stuff, my taste for just about anything else, I didn’t want to listen to anything else, and I spent the last, I guess ten years odd, teaching myself something that a lot of people who’ve been listening over their entire lives know all about. I know guys in Italy or America who’ve been collecting jazz since they were in their teens, and I’m a late starter at this. I’ve built my collection in about the last ten years, and it’s still the thing I love to do is to… of an evening, or during the day, to choose what I’m going to play and then sit here and have a listening session for 40 minutes – not a CD for two hours or a radio in the background, but to sit down and to listen to quite complex music, improvisational music, and just – that’s what I wanted to do. That’s my thing I’ve ended up doing.
Interviewer [04:39]: Your band, then – what sort of music was that?
Wilk: That was rhythm and blues – R&B – which is what everyone did in those days. So it was two guitars, bass, drums and a Hammond organ and we even wrote our own stuff. And I cut some three demo singles at Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles recorded. One Sunday, we had a phone call from a friend who said there was some studio time available, ‘cause there was a no-show in the afternoon [on] Sunday. Did we want to have the ability to do some recording at Abbey Road Studios? Would we say no? All the gear went into the ambulance that we used to transport our equipment around, went down there and cut three singles, which I’ve still got. They sound terribly dated now, though – the electric guitars, the vibrato – but I’m quite pleased we had them. So that was the band. We were called stuff at the time, but we changed our name quite frequently, especially after a bad gig. That’s what we ended up called, and that was the name we used at various… [as a] support bands to quite big people. I don’t think I would ever have made the grade as a full-time musician. A lot of people are much, much better than I was. I didn’t really think that I was good enough to make it as a professional guitar player, so I went into completely unrelated things. Financial services, then health care. That’s what I did for 40 years.
Interviewer [06:25]: Did you keep an interest in rhythm and blues as well, or has jazz pretty much taken over?
Wilk: Well, I’ve got all of my original albums from the sixties upstairs. There’s, a whole little collection of stuff, which is – they’re very valuable now, very valuable indeed, but very hard to get. We’re talking hundreds of pounds for an LP. And I still play them. Just occasionally, I’ll have a friend round and we’ll have a listening session which we do every couple of weeks, and if we’ve had a bit too much wine, we start getting nostalgic so I just put on some of the old stuff. So that’s what we do, yeah, so I still have a fondness for R&B, but I’ve got Algerian Rai, I’ve got contemporary classical that’s all on CD, and I don’t listen to that stuff much anymore. My listening pleasure would be to open up an LP, put it on the turntable and then sit and listen to the beauty of audiophile performance coming back from fifty years ago. So that’s my thing.
Interviewer [07:34]: And so obviously you’ve mentioned you collect jazz records. Could you describe the nature of any other jazz activities you might be engaged with?
Wilk: Yes, five years ago I started a website and a blog called ‘London Jazz Collector’. From humble beginnings, I now have virtually eight-hundred albums I’ve written about online. I get emails constantly from people about questions about vinyl and about jazz. I have contacts from some of the great jazz musicians, their widows – a great bass players, his wife, his widow wrote to me thanking me for what I’d written about her husband’s work. Very sweet. I’m in regular contact with jazz collectors around the world. I have eight-hundred followers on my website, two-thousand page views a day and, so far, I’ve had nearly two and a half-million-page views. All of that is about jazz, and I’m now – I was invited as an authority on Blue Note to help Thames and Hudson write their uncompromising expression coffee book set for the seventy-fifth anniversary of that. I’ve been asked to… I went up to the live filming of three jazz artists up at the power station at Chiswick, it was being filmed for a TV series, and got interviewed live in 4K definition film, about records and collecting and all that kind of stuff. I was interviewed by Gaby Roslin on a Sunday afternoon show, BBC, about my collecting and about records and such like. And it’s just been just kind of a whirlwind. I’m writing constantly now about jazz. I taught myself a great deal, and it’s sort of like more than a hobby. It’s become a way of life now.
I get up in the morning and see what’s in my mailbox, and people all over the world – I’ve got Japanese collectors, guys in Russia, lots of them in America obviously, lots in Britain, French guys. And I’ve done studies of different jazz labels, which I’ve published online, so they’re reference sources for other collectors. Like, a John Coltrane album from 1963 – what’s the original pressing? Is it this? Is the label that one? Is it this? Is it that? What is the meaning of the etchings in the run-up? What does it tell you about who mastered it, which pressing plant pressed it – there’s a whole vast body of knowledge, which I guess I’ve accidentally become a sort of… one of the world - I wouldn’t say the world expert - but one of the more knowledgeable people. And I enjoy doing it, so I can’t think of any reason… anything else I’d like to do better than that. And it’s come from very humble beginnings where I didn’t know very much. I made a lot of mistakes and things.
I wrote – I had to teach myself a lot very quickly, and I learned to write. I used my photography to build on the subject that I’m writing about. I do more research. I don’t know very much from personal experience about a lot of these things, but I’m quite good as a researcher to synthesise from different sources, from Billboard magazine from 1962, original work, I just piece the whole jigsaw together and then I enjoy writing about – I write about jazz musicians, I write about jazz records, I write about hi-fi, I write about American record clubs of the fifties. Just the whole topic is up for grabs, and I now have guest posts where I get people who, maybe were musicians like Peter Ind back in the old days in the jazz loft scene in New York. I’ll get somebody to write a post for me so I don’t have to do everything. I’ve now got a hi-fi reviewer who’s just written a piece for me on the Neumann U47 microphone, which was Frank Sinatra’s favourite microphone, and almost all the jazz recordings in the fifties and sixties, a lot of them used this unique microphone, the U47, so the guy’s written a post for me about how this microphone came about, all to do with wartime Germany. The microphone was developed… it’s so good for singers because it was developed for amplifying the human voice, which might have had something to do with rallies in Germany, ‘cause it was German engineered. It’s like a fascinating history, so I shall really be thrilled to put that up. And I get people who follow my writing who are sound engineers who write in, there are other people who are other collectors, there are musicians – I have just about everything that spins off of that. So that’s really where I’m at, at the moment on jazz.
Interviewer [13:07]: So, next, then what has motivated you to continue with this, because obviously it’s quite a big job, really, I think you do. What’s continued to motivate you?
Wilk: I describe myself as being self-unemployed. I spent forty years in the world of work doing what other people want me to do, and I was quite good at it. I was a company director, giving presentations at national conferences, all sorts of things, but for the first time in my life I found that I could now do what I want to do. And there’s nothing more motivating than doing what you want to do. And for no reason, not because you have to make money because the modest pension, that takes care of the essentials of life. I have nothing else to do, and this sort of blossomed out. I found I could sit and write for five hours or six hours, and I love writing and I love photography, I love technology, web design, I love music and I love really good hi-fi, and I write with a humorous tone. That’s something I learned how to do as well a long time ago, so I think mine is the only jazz site that people regularly tell me they fall about laughing reading what I’ve written, so I enjoy doing that. I developed a technique of writing in other voices. I have characters, which allows you to not use yourself as the author, me, but write as though you were someone else. Write as a terribly, painfully hip DJ, right? In one voice, or a TV music show host who’s a bit of a bumbling idiot who makes a fool of himself. And I developed also the characters that can, I can… with different voices I can write just to keep it entertaining. It keeps me on my toes, and I haven’t run out of ideas yet.
Interviewer [15:16]: Thank you. So, again, it’s quite a big endeavour. How do you organise/structure your jazz activities – the collecting in particular, and even your writing as well?
Wilk: Structure is quite important. When you’ve got a large record collection – I have seventeen-hundred jazz records, all vinyl – cataloguing them, they’re in a database. I have all the knowledge I have, which I use on my website, a lot of it is derived from the records I own, and also from records other people own who are collectors too. So, the jazz assets are catalogued, they’re identified, they’re alphabetically sorted – God help me; it takes me three days to do my re-filing when I do a filing list. When I’m writing, I’m constantly referring to a library of jazz books, reference sources. The website is a kind of central point on which things get organised. If I’m wanting to write about something I’ve written pages and pages and pages on… each of the different jazz labels – so we have Blue Note, the obvious stuff, Impulse, Riverside, all the great labels – and then somebody will write in to me and say, “Hey, you’ve missed out so-and-so.” I’ll then develop that. So, I think the website, thinking about jazz, is like the core activity from which I will branch off. I will go out this afternoon ‘round the record shops in London to look for records, or then I’ll be bidding on eBay for records. I have friends come ‘round and we’ll have a jazz listening session, but they all read my blog as well, and it’s… you couldn’t do it now, but it’s built up over eight years. It would take you far too long. Nobody in their right mind would get seventeen-hundred records and start weighing them, for example – I know how much the vinyl weighs because final weight is a characteristic of age.
When records first came out, the twelve-inch LP in the early fifties, we’re talking two-hundred grams weight, two-hundred-and-twenty. They were monsters. And over the period of fifteen years, twenty years that followed, the vinyl weight dropped to about one-hundred grams. So very often, you know that you’ve got an original pressing not only because of the label, the etchings, and all the… what it says on the cover and the address of the record company - you put it on the scales, and I’ve got reference sources of what records, what labels, what pressing plants did, and that’s all posted up as a resource on the website as well. I only used to write about records I owned, and the difference was you can’t own everything and you don’t want to own everything, so, I started… actually, on the suggestion of an Italian dermatologist who I know who’s a jazz collector, life long – he said, “Why don’t you do… the definitive guide to this”, and you can get the stuff off the internet – you don’t have to own it. And we worked together over nearly two years to put together a visual collection of the entire Blue Note fifteen-hundred and four-thousand-series, four-hundred-and-fifty records. There are a lot you wouldn’t want to own because they’re not very good or they’re very expensive, but we drew this up as a labour of love. And I went on to write about artists or things that I hadn’t got because it was more interesting.
I had to do research, and that interested me, that engaged me, and I enjoy finding out things, so I started to write, for example, an obituary of Bobby Hutcherson, who just died in the middle of August, a great American vibraphone player. I got all the records down from my shelf. I had [fourteen or forty?] of his records. I sat over - I hadn’t played a lot of them for a couple of years - I sat for three, four evenings in a row revisiting everything I had listened to of his music. I had not realised how good some of his stuff is, because writing about it forces you to organise yourself in a way that just living life doesn’t force you to do. And if you’re going to have to write something and a lot of people are going to read it, you’d better know your stuff. Because there’s nothing worse than writing something wrong on the internet. The whole world will come down on you like a ton of bricks. “Hey! Hey, London Jazz Collector, you’re wrong, it was nineteen-fifty-six, not…” So, real journalists have rooms full of fact checkers and students doing work experience who cover them. I have to do it all myself, so I do quite a lot of research to make sure that I don’t make a complete idiot of myself when I’m writing. And I’ve just published a review. I think it’s a better review than the New York Times did of Bobby Hutcherson. I write not only about his music but his style, his instrument - what makes the vibraphone so unique as a hybrid instrument that’s part piano and part percussion is that you can do sustained ringing tones, you can do melodies, you can do harmonies, you can play chords, you can a lot of things, you can do it percussively. And this guy was just so good that he could blend with whatever the requirements of different sessions, different players, different styles of music. Whether it’s something typically post-bop, free, further out. His famous recording ‘Out to Lunch’ with Eric Dolphy, nobody else could have played the things he played, and he was a genius, and I’ve had [fourteen or forty?] of his records and I think I hadn’t played a lot of them in probably four or five years. I thought, what a waste, so I sat down and I re-taught myself Bobby Hutcherson. And then I went to write it, and I got some terrific feedback from the retrospective review, and I’m still writing it – I’ve got about four or five more records I’m about to write about, and that’s got me really quite motivated, and it’s quite surprising. If you have to write, you have to rediscover what you know and build on it, and that’s incredibly motivating. I really enjoy doing that. And I’ve learned such a lot. I think I said earlier, I can now please myself, but in a way, I’m pleasing a lot of other people as well. I think I’ve only ever had two or three rude things come back to me on my website, which for five years is pretty impressive, given the hateful things that other people write on things. I think I’ve only – in fact, somebody was drunk in Paris one night and wrote something rude. Apart from that, I get such terrific feedback, it’s really quite appreciative, which is something you don’t often get in life. I get gifts from people in America, collected so many books on jazz, to thank me for the work I’ve been doing, and that’s very pleasing as well.
Interviewer [23:07]: I mean, how you communicate information about your jazz activities, your website, your collecting if that’s also necessary.
Wilk: Well, the beauty of the internet is that it plugs you into a community of people all around the world who you will never meet, who you’ll never know. The internet has enabled the creation of virtual communities. So, I have two-thousand people every day read stuff on my page on jazz. That community of people can only exist because of the internet. Before then, you had a friend who liked jazz and that was about it. Whereas we’re all in different countries, we’re all on different pages. Some people are sound engineers, some people are lifelong collectors, some people love the DJ sector, the guys that love the dance music and Gilles Peterson clones, and they’re all running around the east-end of London with beards on going to clubs and stuff like that. And then I’ve got a guy who runs hotels in Japan who’s got the most perfect collection of Prestige albums from the fifties, an entire world, he’s got virtually every single one of them. It’s completely mad. He’s got two-hundred-something. And he helped me do a review of the characteristics of original Prestige. Luckily, he spoke a reasonable amount of English. And I get collectors from Russia who do rock and pop and they’ve started to catalogue stuff for sale because there’s a burgeoning market in jazz in Moscow and St. Petersburg. So it’s a non-stop whirlwind of stuff, and it’s all… it couldn’t really exist without the internet. It becomes a focal point for exchanging information, for people writing to other people.
I started a forum. Somebody volunteered to manage it for me, because it’s too much. I’ve got a website, I’ve got a blog, which I post something new on every… used to be every two, three days, nowadays it’s about every week. So, there’s always new material. People subscribe in that they give me their email address so that they get an update that something new has been posted. There’s eight-hundred followers there. And then people coming in off search engines, Google every day, looking for something about a particular record, a particular artist, something that want to know how much they should bid for in a record. Is it really valuable? Is it rare? I’ve got a few friends that probably email me three times a day about, you know, “What should I bid on this? What should I bid on that?” So, I’ve built up a knowledge about what original vinyl jazz is worth, what’s rare, what’s really rare. How much would you pay for John Coltrane’s ‘Blue Train’, original pressing from nineteen-sixty-whatever on Blue Note, and I’ll be able to tell you that depending on the condition it’s four or five-hundred pounds. Or a Tubby Hayes record, we’re talking eight-hundred pounds if you want it, because there’s only six-hundred in existence. Or some of them are so rare, I’d say, don’t waste your time; collectors in Japan will buy this. It all focuses… the communications become possible because of email, web pages and the fact that I’m able fortunately, because I don’t have anything else to do other than what I want, I’m able to – my website is open all the time, twenty-four hours a day, so time zones aren’t a problem. It’s an Anglophone site, so you have to be able to speak English – that’s one of the drawbacks – but luckily English is a kind of business language of the world.
I can respond in more or less real time. People will write in for something and I’ll get a reply within twenty-four hours. It’s not quite like… people are always on their phones, checking their phone every minute – I don’t do that, but I’m able to respond to people within six hours, twelve hours or whatever, and that’s sort of unusual. There’s a sense that if you post something to somewhere, the fact that there’s a human being at the other end who’s actually connecting with what you’re asking and gives you a reply within a few hours on a highly specialised subject, like an obscure American jazz label, there’s not many places in the world you get that kind of thing that you don’t have to pay for. So, it’s a hugely popular thing. My most viewed page, funnily enough, is not about jazz, it’s my formula for record cleaning fluid. Gets five-hundred views a week. I made my own mix of stuff for cleaning vinyl because vinyl that’s fifty or sixty years old has been through the hands of lots of different people. It’s got fingerprints and was never… covered with dust and covered with grease. They have to be cleaned and so I developed a formula for cleaning records effectively and it’s become a reference for record collectors. Everybody follows my recipe, which is very nice. I should make it and sell it, but I don’t want to.
Interviewer [29:14]: When… obviously, when you first started collecting records, did you communicate in different ways? Or has it always been…?
Wilk: With buying records, there are buyers and sellers, and the seller wants the maximum he can get for a record, and he has to know a lot about the right price for the market. If you’re a buyer, a collector of records – some people are both – you really don’t want to pay more than you should. And so, something like eBay, you learn fairly quickly. I’ve written about a ten-page guide to buying records on eBay, which is also very popular. All the secrets of the technique of bidding in open auctions. Whether you should, for example, bid at the last minute or whether you should put your best bid on a week before or whether you should look at what the price has reached an hour or two before the auction closes and pluck up courage to go higher. A lot of people who will win that record at auction will only bid in the closing seconds, so it’s a battlefield out there and you really get to learn what things are worth to you, and it’s a funny thing – it’s not something most people know. When I was just buying records, ordinary, I never paid more than 10 pounds for a record. I have now spent a lot more on records because they’re worth it to me, and I don’t want to resell them to make a profit. But I know that a Tubby Hayes tempo record will be somewhere between 200 and 500 pounds, and if it’s a particular – say, one of his very best ones that’s incredibly sought-after like Tubby’s Groove, it’s not uncommon for it to go to 800 pounds. If you want to own it, and I happen to own it, you’ve got to be prepared to go and do battle with other collectors. In a world of three trillion people – I think that’s the world population at the moment – it only takes one other person who wants it more than you, and you won’t get it and they will. You learn a lot about how much you value these things and what things are worth. They’re worth what they’re worth. Very rare reggae singles are worth ten thousand pounds in terrible condition – that’s part of the culture of Jamaican records from that period of time. Classical music, very, very rare ones with [inaudible] all the right people and the best musicians – ten, twenty thousand pounds for the right one. And then there are other ones that aren’t worth a penny. They sold a lot, they’re very common, like people go into second-hand shops and say, “I’ve got some Beatles in my loft.” And the guy will just shake his head. “You know, these sold in millions. They’re worth nothing. Go and take them to the charity shop. But that particular one that you’ve got there – that’s the first pressing of so-and-so, of Hard Day’s Night, it was released da-da-da, and it’s worth a hundred thousand pounds.” It’s a marketplace. A marketplace is not something you know about, get up in the morning and think, “I know the market worth of things.” It’s like Antiques Roadshow, you know. The guys on there know all the different types of watches – that’s a 14th century, that’s a 19th century, a ceramic producer from Paris, whatever. That kind of knowledge is hard work. You have to build it up. That’s what I’ve done – I’ve built up a knowledge base here, in my head, of jazz records. What they’re worth, what’s rare, and it’s not only, “Are they brilliant musically?” Some of the rarer, most expensive ones are not very good, and that has something to do with the fact that they didn’t sell – that’s why they’re rare. There are… what are they called? Progressive 60s albums. A very rare one is worth ten thousand pounds because there are only about 10 copies in existence and the band was rubbish. They broke up. The only people that owned those records were the members of the band themselves, because it was never released, but it’s so rare. People will pay huge sums of money for a piece of nostalgia, and that’s the market – it’s about rarity, scarcity, it’s not about quality. The best records to listen to very often are not at all expensive. Great records like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue now must have sort probably over a million and a half copies, but to get an original pressing on the Columbia six-eye label is still something very special. You’ve got the original artefact from 1963, if I remember right, or it was 61. I’ve got a copy. I put it on the turntable, and it’s one of the most beautiful pressings that you can imagine. It’s a stereo edition, and it’s like being present with Miles Davis, Bill Evans, all those people in the same room with you. It’s an experience pretty near the best you could ever have. And it sounds – I’ve got British pressings, I’ve got more modern pressings, I’ve got Audiophile. Nothing – nothing – gets you ready for the experience of that recording. Miles Davis sextet, or quartet or whatever it was, recording in the church in New York, which was a studio that was an old Armenian church. It had a 100-foot-high ceiling, and the ambient noise, the way the instruments bounce of each other, it’s an absolute peak experience to listen to this, the original pressing. I’m lucky enough to own one. There are guys who’ve got an autographed copy that’s… god knows how much it costs, I’m not an autograph hunter, but some of those records are very, very special. Very special. And they sound gorgeous, they really do. Forget CD, forget radio, downloads or anything. That turntable in that corner there will give you a sublime experience, I guarantee it, and that is probably… People collect for different reasons. They collect because records are valuable, they want to resell them, or they want to own a piece of history, or they want to have something that’s very rare and makes other people jealous – look what I’ve got. There are people who collect them like they’re American bubble gum cards, you know, “I’ve got all of them except that one – that’s the one I’m missing so that’s the one I want the most.” I collect in order to play. Old-fashioned that way. And the only reason for owning a record is to play it, and that’s where I get the pleasure from and that’s why I collect. That gives you some insight.
Interviewer [36:35]: Thank you. Obviously… you’ve kind of said that you do all of it, really, on your own. But have you at any time had any other structures in place that help support you? Has anyone ever tried to support your activities in any way?
Wilk: No. What people really try to do – they try to use me in order to help them sell records. I get people come and say, “My grandfather’s just died. He’s got a superb jazz collection of 500 records. Can you help me? Do you want to buy them?” That’s all the stuff where people want to use you. I don’t think I’ve had any help except the selfless support of other collectors. People are constantly, sort of, “Right, I’ve looked at the labelography you’ve done of Impulse. You’ve got three missing there. I can send you photographs. I’ve discovered an etching that you haven’t covered, so I’ve done some photography.” My mobile will be full of things that people are sending me as a central collection point. They’re not going to start their own, and nobody else is crazy enough to want to do this sort of thing, so that kind of unique resource for jazz fans, collectors, has resulted in a lot of individuals being enormously helpful. It’s not organisational support. That’s just other people who’ve got nothing better to do with their time and they’re also crazy about the music. It’s a labour of love, and that’s the best kind of help, so I get lots and lots of help from other collectors, other fans, studio engineers. But I do get people trying to sell me records a lot. When I go back to when I first started the website, the first words that came through my mind – I live in London, I’m a jazz collector, I’ll call myself London Jazz Collector. Big mistake. “Oh, hey, London Jazz Collector – I’ve got 50 jazz records. Shall I send you a list of them? I only want 50 –” Uh-uh, no no no. I decided very early on that there would be no commercial activity on my site, no buying and selling records, no helping people who are trying to start a business doing something, who’d like to advertise so they can reach customers for their business. You have to make a decision. You either maintain a website as an economic function, you know, you put a tip jar on, or you charge people for things, or you make money out of advertising. I decided that this was going to be free, open… comments I get… on any post, I get up to 100, 150 comments from people around the world. Most websites have a moderation queue, you have to have your comment approved or you have to register with the site to comment. I decided early on I would take the risk – open. And it doesn’t close after two weeks. Everything that I’ve written is available… some of the starting stuff was pretty ropey – 2011. I still get people commenting on stuff I wrote five years ago, and to me that’s a great pleasure, a great pleasure. You never know what’s going to peek round the corner. It’s bit like when I worked in health care. People told me about the accident and emergency department. It’s the one area of hospitals that you never know what’s going to walk through the door. It keeps it constantly interesting, and that’s sort of the sense… it’s always about jazz and or the records or whatever, but it’s – there’s never a dull day as a result of that. But organisations… it’s not really an organisations thing…I do get asked to do – to help other organisations, do interviews on programmes, and that, I’m always happy to do that. I do get asked to do residencies in clubs. Would I like to…I’ve had three offers of residencies [inaudible] would I like to curate a jazz session at a venue in terribly fashionable Hackney or Shoreditch, and I go, “Well, that’s very flattering, but do I want to be getting the train at one in the morning carrying 3000 pounds’ worth of records just in order to get an ego buzz from playing vinyl to a very cool audience of 50 people in a Shoreditch club?” No, I think I draw the line there. That’s not what I want to do. I’ve been offered to do a residency on a radio station in America on jazz. It means I’ve always got to be there, I’ve got to be doing it every week, I’ve got to have the discipline, I can’t just take the week off… Something I said earlier, I said I’m lucky enough to be able to please myself, so I don’t really want too much in the way of obligations to help other people. That’s the selfish thing perhaps, but… my rules. My gaffe, my rules. Those are my rules.
Interviewer [42:18]: Have there been any particular obstacles to any of your jazz activities over the years that you can think of?
Wilk: Yeah, one of the borderline areas of publishing things on the Internet is copyright law. In the past, there were lots of people who liked to rip CDs and put them online. You get a lot of people saying, “Wow, thanks, man.” Basically you’ve just breached copyright, you’re giving away other artists’ work, which is breach of copyright. It’s illegal and pretty soon people like Madonna and that started cracking down on pirates, eBay, Pirate Bay and these kinds of websites that load up free movies, free records and all that lot. So, I had a lot of concerns about what I was doing, whether I was in breach of copyright. Almost everything I did was over 50 years old. The people that created that music are all dead. The copyright has run out on just about everything I write about. There are some borderline things, like a Bobby Hutchison album that is technically only 48 years old. So I had to create some rules about what I was prepared to do. I don’t give away records. Nothing on my site can be downloaded. It’s streaming. One album, one track only from it. It’s not like you can download the track. You can listen to it, and that’s all, and, I write under the same creative commons license as Wikipedia. It’s for education and research only. So there’s no commercial activity, no income stream, no tip jar, no advertising. I don’t give away records, I don’t give away whole albums. If you like the album enough, you should go and buy it. Think of it as free advertising. If I’ve got a picture that I’ve used that’s technically – all my own work is copyright, I do all my own photography, and I constantly find my own work on other peoples’ sites. Great. I should care less. I don’t lose anything by it. So you have to kind of work out rules about what you’re going to do, what you’ll let other people do. I have had to ban some people because they were obnoxious and rude to other posters, and were argumentative, and that’s what life’s like sometimes. There are people who only feel good when they’re putting someone else down, and the Internet attracts people like that. There are two or three people who I said, “My gaffe, my rules. I’m not going to allow you to write comments on my site anymore.” [laughs] But that very rare thing aside, I’ve – touch wood – not had any problems, because I think my rules are honourable, and research and education is a proper thing to do, and therefore the creative commons license allows for educational research use of material that would otherwise be breach of copyright if it were to be used commercially. So it’s sort of for the common good. I did see a lot of other people – other jazz websites gave away stuff. They got whacked out. They got taken down, they got cease and desists, lawyers’ actions, and technically you can be fined huge sums of money for publishing other artists’ work in breach of copyright. But the work I do… for example, when I’m writing about Blue Note, Blue Note is owned by EMI, and that’s an American company. The guys are still there. They’re huge fans of my site. There’s no question of being in breach of copyright. I get free records for reviewing from companies in America, and I’m happy to do that because it’s what I like to do. So I think – touch wood – I’ve found the right way to do this without… but if you Google anything, you’ll still come across guys who are very popular because they give away CDs full of music with a download link, and all anybody ever says is, “Gee, wow, thanks man.” And that’s a pretty poor thing. I’ve got musicians writing to me, spending a long time writing thoughtful things that I like to read and everybody else can read, and it’s like exchange of ideas between people who love the same thing, and that’s very fulfilling. Someone saying, “Wow, thanks, man”… that’s like a loser thing, that’s cheap, that’s like somebody pressing a like button. I don’t have a like button… well, I do, but I encourage people to make comments, that’s my reward. And I’ve got people who’ve been following my site for four, five years now. Other people come and go. They move on, they move into something else. But I’ve got guys who regularly pull my leg about things, who like to be the first to comment if I’ve written about a new artist I haven’t written about or a new thing. Or I have other people who’ve got similar websites to mine, not as good as mine, but.., they copy what I do. Not physically, but they write under the same headings, I write about the artist, about the music itself, I write about the whole vinyl side, covers, notes. I provide photography of the original artefact, and then I write a piece which I call Collector’s Corner, which is for us idiots that actually collect the stuff. Stories about being a collector, how I came by it, the fact that I walked into a shop in Putney, which I go to about once every six or seven weeks, and I was just walking out after buying a couple of records, and the guy, Lawrence, called me back and said, “Ah, would you be interested in – I’ve just had a box come in from the States that’s got a couple of jazz albums in it.” I said, “Well, maybe. What have you got?” And he said, “This.” And he only held up a stereo copy of Kind of Blue on the six-eye label. And I nearly died. It’s like being struck by lightning. Am I interested? Pfff. I might be – who knows? It’s a buying and selling situation. “What were you thinking of asking for it?” “Um, just a minute… I’ll just got on the Internet, see what copies of this sell for. Well, it’s not in perfect shape. What would you think of 40 quid?” “Well… what would you do for cash?” So that’s how it happens. So there’s a collecting story. That’s not about Miles Davis, that’s not about the Columbia record label, it’s not about who’s in the band. It’s a piece for collectors. All these little things that have kind of grown up, and they provide something of interest to all the different interests that people have out there, and they know can come in and get... maybe there’s nothing posted for a couple of weeks, they go back and look at old posts. Everything I write about is at least 50 years old, so what does “the latest” mean? It’s different if you write about, this is the new record, this is the new band, you must be the first to review this new record – nothing I’ve got is new. Everything was new when it came out, but that’s 50, 60 years ago, so it’s timeless. I wrote about a record in 2011 and it was released 50 years ago. It’s as fresh as the record I’m writing about today, which was released in 1961 and is just being written about by me, so people are constantly reading things that were written two years ago, three years ago, four years ago. It’s all good stuff. It’s all there. Eight hundred posts.
Interviewer [51:28]: Thank you. If we just talk a little bit then about different areas of jazz and whether or not you’ve associated with them in any way, whether that be collecting, concerts… anything, really.
Interviewer: So can you tell me about any association you’ve had with British jazz or American jazz.
Wilk: Right. Okay. Well, the two… though there were local jazz musicians, musical communities in different parts of the world… there’s an Italian jazz scene, there’s Spanish, there’s probably Argentinean, there’s other sorts. The core genre of jazz is the music of black America, basically. That’s where it came from, that’s its roots. It came out of the big bands in the 40s, and swing, wartime. And the jazz that I’m interested in evolved out of the small jazz groups in America. There are reasons particularly why it grew up in America. A lot of it had to do with military service, and when in the 50s young black men came out of, finished their military service, they got a free education. They could go to college and they chose music studies. And there was a constant flow of artists coming onto the music scene who played in American military bands Cannonball Adderley and people like that. And they moved into the world of work as a jazz musician, and they all knew each other, had contacts, they hung out together in the same clubs in New York, they taught each other, they went to try-out sessions, played with Thelonious Monk at 54th Street. And so it had a natural – like a petri dish. Jazz was grown in the culture of America. At the same time, to a large degree – it’s probably still the largest creative market. Country of 300 million people, you know, it’s got a lot of musicians and a lot of jazz history. The English jazz scene grew up as a sort of parallel. Just like there was an English rock and pop scene – the Beatles, the Stones, and all that lot – and we conquered America, there was a British jazz scene that was followed by people who wanted to listen to live jazz in certain clubs in Soho, and we grew some terrific musicians that were the equal of or better than many of the American players. People like Tubby Hayes, Don Rendell, Ian Carr… gosh, there’s a lot of them. Stan Tracey. And the English jazz scene grew up as a sort of parallel. The reason it didn’t develop much further is that we were so successful in rock and pop – the 60s was a cauldron of talent and an audience for teenagers, and jazz wasn’t their thing. It was their dads’ thing, probably, and so jazz really didn’t take off. There was a time when it was jazz, popular and classical were the three types of music there was, but the market was soon dominated by teenage music for teenagers. Handsome young men playing guitars. That’s all people wanted to listen to, that’s what people wanted, that’s what people went to see. I was the same – I went to see all the artists, I saw Led Zeppelin, I saw John Mayall, I saw The Cream, Jimi Hendrix, all these people. And jazz sort of disappeared. It became something that a few places, live venues like Ronnie Scott’s – it’s always been that you could go and see jazz, but it was a very small community. So the records really didn’t sell. Some of Tubby Hayes’ records on Tempo sold no more than a thousand copies, which is why they’re so rare and so collectible. It has an incredibly strong following for some British jazz fans. This is the music of their youth, guys who are probably in their 70s now remember going to see Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, or actually saw these great artists, Don Rendell live, and this is their last change to recapture a piece of their youth. So when you see an eBay buyer – I was bidding on some Tubby Hayes stuff, and I was just heartbroken how expensive it finally went for, it went for 800 pounds, and through eBay you can find out a little about the person who won the record, and what you’re used to seeing is that you look at the buying history of any particular person, you know, you were really after Tubby Hayes Down in the Village and you didn’t get it, and it went for 300 pounds and you see it went to a Japanese bidder, it went to an American bidder, it went to somebody who’s a dealer or it went to somebody who only buys jazz vinyl and other collectors. And then I went to this Tubby Hayes record – what did I see that buyer had? Used car parts? It was a motor dealer. Things that were nothing to do with music, antiques, and you go… what have I just lost to? Somebody who was passionate and was going to spend that much money, 800 pounds, for something that clearly meant a huge amount to them. For all I know, it’s a relative of Tubby Hayes or whatever, or some ex-girlfriend. It can mean a great deal of things to some people. And you see from their buying history they’re not a vinyl collector; they just wanted that particular thing, so you realise that British jazz a lot of things – different things to different people. Somebody like myself, back at that time I was listening to all sorts of music, I didn’t have many jazz records – British jazz records. I’ve not got a collection of about 40 or 50. They’re so hard to get, they’re so sought after. Ian Carr’s Nucleus – what’s the one called, Shades of Blue or something, thousands of pounds. Incredibly expensive. [Inaudible], Paul Gonsalvez I think. I can get the titles mixed up. The DJs worship some of these records, the Gilles Peterson crowd, and of course it’s tax deductible because it’s part of their work. They were playing stuff, and the stuff they were playing, people went to the clubs and heard this music, and it’s the sort of really low down, funky type of British jazz, and it’s incredibly collectible, and it’s incredibly sought after, and it’s incredibly rare. So you’re chasing a lot of other people who are wanting things more than you. But I’ve always been delighted to get things like Stan Tracey’s – I’m trying to remember the name of the things now… Under Milk Wood, the jazz, … what do you call it, concept album? Based on a piece of poetry or something. It’s got a track called Bible Black or something, and it’s fantastic British jazz but I’d have to go and look it up. I’ve got it alphabetically [whispering – inaudible] .It’s not too hard to find, it sold well, I think I paid 100 quid for it. I’ve got it in mono and in stereo, and the stereo is beautiful. It’s on the Columbia Magic Notes label, and it’s an original – I should get the year, it’s probably about 1966 or something like that, and I play it fairly frequently, and it’s a beautiful piece of music. Under Milk Wood – it’s a Welsh writer, poet, writer. Dylan Thomas. It’s based on that. And it’s a terrific piece of British jazz. I’ve got some Don Rendell, I’ve got some… live Tubby Hayes, Down In The Village, Soho recordings, which are fantastic, incredibly sought after, and I found one of them on a market stall in northern Italy run by a rock and pop bric-a-brac seller who happened to be a jazz fan and needed some money, and nobody could have been more shocked when I walked into a market stall in Liguria, saw some LPs, had no expectation of finding anything, flicked through the albums, and it’s one of those struck by lightning moments again. Tubby Hayes – Down In The Village – stereo – Fontana original pressing. My god! What is this? What have I found? And Luca, runs the stall, he was shocked – somebody who knows what this record is? My god! His wife spoke good English, so, had lived in England a while, and we had a great conversation. And it cost me quite a few euros, but he was worth… but I was thrilled to bits. My suitcase flew home with an original Tubby Hayes pressing in it, and I was thrilled to bits. And so that’s my thing about being a collector. I have to say, most times, things don’t happen. You get terrible stuff. So, British and American jazz…, American is still for me the most exciting stuff, especially the, – if you had the 50s, the British jazz scene, mid- to late 50s, 56 through to 58 – some of the most exciting music in jazz was really… we went off into sort of like jazz-rock and things like that. America, through Miles Davis, the post-bop, modal-influenced stuff of the mid-60s with the birth of more free jazz and more experimental, further out, pushing the boundaries – it took a long time to get used to listening to more difficult jazz, not quite free, where you’d get five people just hammering the hell out of their instruments simultaneously, because that’s really what free is, but post Ornette Coleman there was a highly creative period of jazz right through to the loft music of the 70s, and once you get used to hearing more difficult music – it’s still improvisational, the musicians are still listening to each other, but there are less rules, there are less, “This is the melody, this is the heads, this is the improvised bit, these are the chord changes, everybody has to do a bit and then you have to do a little solo.” You might get a piece that might last for 17 minutes where nobody knows what anybody else is going to play. And it’s like Miles Davis, Nights at the Black Hawk, and you’ve got room to stretch out till you’ve developed your melodic ideas, harmonic ideas, and you’ll be listening to each other, and something beautiful would be being created spontaneously. That kind of stuff didn’t really happen in British jazz. We had Soft Machine and all that kind of stuff, but it very quickly went electric, went synthesizer based, and then you’ve got the influences of dance music, the funky stuff, the hand organ, the Jimmy Smith school, Big John Patton, all those very very… what’s the right word… very rhythmic stuff. Some people like that. Myself, I’m not so good. I often ask myself the question, how many Jimmy Smith albums do I really need? I think he published 24 on Blue Note. I’ll say, sometimes I feel one may be enough, sometimes I think one may be too many. But sometimes you say that and you realise you’ve been talking to somebody who’s a huge fan of Jimmy Smith and hand organ playing, you realise you’ve really upset somebody. I was in a record shop once and I said something – I was quite a new collector then – I said, ‘’I don’t really like John Coltrane that much,” and, you know, there was a silence – you could hear a pin drop in the shop. “You what? You call yourself a jazz fan? You don’t like John Coltrane! Wash your mouth out!” It’s not that I don’t like him. I’m not hugely keen on him. It took me a while of listening to some of this more difficult stuff to realise that this relentless exploratory-driven man with a horn in his mouth is making fantastic music, and people absolutely worship Coltrane. When I started out I found it a little bit difficult, so I’m not that keen on it, but once you’ve got your ear in gear and you’ve got used to… you set yourself new boundaries. I draw a line about the funky stuff – I don’t think I’ve danced, other than dad dancing, for 20 years. Dance music doesn’t do anything for me. So the funky stuff – I liked it originally, but… I liked more difficult stuff but I can’t cope with people like Cecil Taylor, who some people worship, and I’ve got some six or seven Cecil Taylor albums, and he’s – there’s a famous quotation about Taylor. He’s a pianist whose music is very abstract, but it’s all carefully pre-written, and I think he’s called… a jazz writer called Gary Giddins said, “People ask me – is Cecil Taylor jazz? I say, that’s the wrong question. Is Cecil Taylor music?” Some people would say yes, some people would say no. I still find him – the minute he develops a melody, a harmony, it evaporates. It’s like anti-music music, that’s how I hear it, and I still think one of these days I’m going to get Cecil Taylor, and I put it on, and usually within about 10, 15 minutes, it comes off again, because I simply – I can’t, it doesn’t hold my attention. I can’t get into it. I’ve got a few I like because there are other people playing who keep it grounded, so you’ve got Sam Rivers the tenor player, Dennis the drummer, the bass player, there’s enough going on to hold you, so… but when Taylor is the centre of it and his stuff goes on for hours in a live performance, you go, “How can you just listen to this?” No, this is the most beautiful music that’s ever been made. So music – it’s has it’s… or jazz, you have your boundaries. Everybody has boundaries. You may not know where they are, you may draw quite a small boundary: I only like trad jazz, I only like British jazz, I only like soul jazz that’s funky. After a while you get to be able to listen to lots and lots of styles or genres of jazz, and what you like changes over time. I also like wine tasting, because wine tasting and jazz-tasting are to me the same thing. The sensual experience. You can’t drink the same wine every evening, you can’t listen to the same record every evening. You develop a palate, you develop your tastes, your tastes inform the next thing you play, you now listen to it in the context of other things that you now know. When I hear a tenor playing, my mind is informing me of all the other tenor players I know – Lester Young, the Coltranes, that avant-gardists, the atonal crowd, the swing, the big band, the Paul Gonsalves. When I hear a tenor player now, I’m listening to pieces of 40 or 50 tenor players in my head. That’s my palate, that’s all the different wines I’ve drunk. So I’m drinking a particular maker of a soave classico, you know, pieropan soave classico, which is about the best I’ve ever tasted. When I taste that, I’m tasting it in the context of 25 other people that make soave classico – some of it was like water, some of it was a sublime experience, like the bottle I had last night. It was very expensive too. So, your taste moves. It’s not fixed. Anybody who says they only like something will tell you that today it’s what you only like. You don’t know what you’ll like tomorrow, and you don’t know that you’ll still like what you liked yesterday, you just – it’s a moving thing. So that’s what’s always stimulating. Pushing the boundaries. Sometimes you have to buy a record you’re not sure that you like because you really don’t know that piece of music, or that style, or that… until you own it, have played it, have played it a few times over, have put it in context for yourself, have experienced it, and may come back to it in six months’ time and play it some more, and your tastes have moved on. It’s like, I really like post-bop, difficult stuff, the far out stuff. Didn’t like it when I started out, but I still bought it as a collector, and I’ve only really started to appreciate it recently. So that’s genres and tastes. I still don’t… I talk to other collectors, a lot of people, who are much more catholic in their tastes, who like all sorts of things. I’ve tried the roots of the stuff, the big bands, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. It doesn’t do it for me. I don’t know why. Big band, to me, it’s too structured, there’s too many people playing. It’s formulaic. You might get to the tenor solo, and the guy jumps up – he’s got 20 bars to play, and then he sits down again and that’s his living earned for the evening. And the whole enterprise is not improvised enough, not spontaneous enough. It’s a very disciplined, arranged style of music. Some of the Hollywood score stuff, west coast jazz – it’s too sweet, it’s too sugary. Sometimes you’ll get in strings, or it’ll go electric on you, and I have an aversion to amplified instruments. Having been a guitarist – maybe that’s because I was a guitarist, amplified instruments – to me, the best possible sound in music is acoustic instruments. So there’s the piano – the attack and decay of the note, the harmonics of the cabinet. On the trumpet, actually the breath, the whole thing as an extension of a human being. The bass has a suppleness, a dryness, and a style that is quite unlike electric bass. If you play electric bass, and this may be heresy to some people, but the ease with which you can slide up and down the strings, rather than picking each note – it changes the way it gets played, and I love full acoustic double bass. And I’ve got – when I see a live jazz band, group, quartet, like Simon Spillett – a sort of inheritor wearing the mantle of Tubby Hayes, great tenor player – and his band, I’m listening almost entirely to acoustic jazz in a live setting, and it’s entirely fulfilling just to – that’s how it should sound. It’s much better than records sound. [laughs] The record has to go through amplifiers and microphones and all sorts of stuff, but acoustic jazz for me… it’s what hits the spot for me. When you get into the 70s… there’s an album called Have Piano Can’t Travel. Acoustic piano is too difficult. There has to be one everywhere. A hand organ is just about carry-able, because I know when I did a gig upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s, it took four of us to get it up the stairs, and it weighs an awful lot, the Hammond B6 organ, the Jimmy Smith organ. Synthesizers, keyboards – they suddenly became very portable. You have large-scale venues, not small-scale venues, so you have to have application, amplification, because the music has to reach a paying audience of five thousand people, and not 50 people in a club where you can play acoustic instruments, and that’s what you did, you took the saxophone home with you and hoped you didn’t get mugged on the way home. And you put your – in fact, Charlie Parker, you put your tenor in hock because you needed money to buy drugs, and then hopefully you get paid for your gig, and then you go and get your horn out of hock. It was a different scale of things. When amplification came in, and large audiences came in – came from stadium rock or large-scale concerts – very often the music is amplified through the public address system. Everything’s mixed. When I went to see Herbie Hancock the other year in a jazz festival in the south of France, there’s no… there’s no audio, there’s no music in it. It’s blasting through a 300-watt PA system raised 30 feet up in the air, so that people 500 yards away at the back can hear it, and it wasn’t like music anymore. It was like listening to the radio. It was loud, and it wasn’t a musical experience for me. So I decided that where I cut loose is when everything became amplified in, sort of, the 1970s. I start to lose interest in it, and the style of music changed. The… what do you call it… the hip street music of New York… Miles Davis evolved as an artist all the time, and you got jazz-rock, fusion, gold lame pants, and everything kind of moves off in a different direction. A lot of people really like that stuff. John McLaughlin came in on guitar in… I think it was 1970, so you have amplified electric guitar, all the instruments, the wonderful Miles Davis first and second quintet disappears. You’ve got fusion and jazz playing. I play it every now and then, and it leaves me cold. I can’t get excited by it. Other collectors I’ve talk to, they go, “No, no! Everything he played was wonderful right up to 86, or something”. It doesn’t do it for me. I love the acoustic stuff. Especially the difficult period in the later 60s before he went electric. So, Filles de Kilimanjaro, Miles Smiles, the second great quintet. You’ve got Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter on bass, Wayne Shorter on tenor who’s a wonderful player, and Miles who’s at his most abstract, and Anthony Williams on drums who’s a prodigy, who’s just extraordinary. It was his record that first got me into jazz. I walked into a shop in… eight years ago… no no no, 10 years ago in Soho and saw the Blue Note Anthony Williams lifetime. Fifty quid. I’d never paid that much money for a record in my life, and to this day I don’t know why I bought it. I just did. I took it home, I put it on my Hi-Fi, and I was utterly blown away by what I heard. And that was probably the one that got me into Blue Note. So there’s the greatest quintet – fantastic – and then suddenly it’s electric and there’s, you know… so there’s a peak period between 65 and 70 where it all takes off that hits my spot. Maybe next year, maybe, I’ll like something else. I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to like, and I don’t diss anything. Except rap. I just can’t abide angry people shouting. It doesn’t do anything for me. There’s great music – it’s a great talent that some people have, not everybody had it, only the best of the best. If you had a system where – there were certain streets in New York in the 50s with certain clubs that had try-outs sort of every Thursday night. Anybody who wanted to could get up on the stage and play with the greatest musicians. And if you thought you were good enough, you’d get up there, and you would know and they would know – it’s like the X Factor for musicians – if you were any good. And some of those guys were brilliant and they were hired the following week. Others, okay, you need to go and study some more, go and practice another, go home and play six hours every night, rehearsing until you get good enough to play with the best. So you had a process of natural selection, a bit like an X Factor sort of thing, where it’s not enough to be good, it’s not enough to be nearly as good. There’s only room for a dozen or five, say, keyboard players – Bill Evans, Bob Powell, Phineas Newborn, maybe a few others. You don’t need an infinity in New York. There’s a critical mass of players, and the very very best. The system of recording, selecting, for a brief period of time it was a pure Darwinian selection process where only the best got through. It wasn’t enough to have been to state school or to be pretty or… the only criteria was whether you could make music with other people who were as good as you. And that, I think, is my explanation as to why jazz created such a rich core of music that we can appreciate today – it’s as fresh as today – it’s not what people are making today, it came from a particular time. It’s not nostalgia for the 60s, it’s not because I was growing up and that’s what I listened to, because I listened to Eric Clapton. It has nothing to do with my nostalgia. It’s just utterly satisfying, beautiful music.
Interviewer [1:20:18]: Well, would you say that – because, obviously you’re saying that back in the past you were into a very different sort of music – would you say that rock and roll, things like the Beatles, had an effect on jazz?
Wilk: Yeah. I think a lot of American big players in the 80s – I mean, I’m not an expert on music, but people like Steely Dan, so their biggest influences were people like Miles Davis. [laughs] You can hear bits of that music in theirs. But they were playing for a different audience, a different culture, you know, it was the record labels, it was a different group of people. But I think a lot of the musicians – Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, that rock and pop scene, I believe… I don’t follow the stuff… a lot of those guys, when they aren’t playing their own sort of stuff, would listen to jazz, because it’s musicians’ music as well. It may be not what you’re doing to earn a living, you maybe a heavy death metal band or something like that, but that isn’t necessarily what you go home and put on your record player. Also, jazz players were influenced by classical music. I’ve just been reviewing a copy of a Bobby Hutcherson album called Head On. It’s got pieces on it with 20 musicians that are influenced by Stravinsky. A lot of the top jazz players I’ve listened to – Bartok and people who were very very hip on the classical scene, so everybody influences everybody else, so I’d be surprised if people were not influenced by these things. But I think if you’re the Beatles, might you have been influenced by jazz maybe? I don’t know, I’m not enough of a music critic.
Interviewer [1:22:15]: Would you say it had a negative effect on things like, say, the popularity of jazz, having things like the Beatles and rock come and break through?
Wilk: I think when you get into a culture of teen fandom, which of the four Beatles you think is the cutest, the magazine culture, the whole teenage thing, which is driven by… it’s a natural process. Girls screaming at the Beatles. Did anybody scream at jazz concerts? No. People just breathe very quietly. [sighs] “Yeah.” The culture of rock and pop is so different. It gets people excited, it gets them dancing, it gets them whistling at the end of it. They have their favourites, they go to see them, the girls will hang around afterwards hoping to see their stars. Did I ever see Miles Davis? No. Would I have wanted to? Possibly not, I don’t think. I’ve not seen – most of the people I’ve seen live – I’ve seen Chick Corea, I’ve seen John McLaughlin, I’ve seen Herbie Hancock. I think I’ve walked out of – they’re not the people I listen to. I listen to what they made in the 60s. I don’t listen to Herbie Hancock today. He started playing – the second number – John Lennon’s Imagine. I had to leave, I had to make an excuse and leave. That’s not what I listen to. No disrespect to Herbie. He’s had a whale of a time, he’s a celebrity, he records with Pink and gets dinner in the White House, and good luck to him. But I stopped listening to his music after 1970 when the purple shell suits came on, when the synthesizers came in, the Head Hunters phase. There are people who worship that stuff, don’t get me wrong, in a sense you’re a listener. You can’t like everything, well you can, but what makes people like one thing more than another? I don’t know, but I’m very conscious if something does it for me, something excites me, I’m learning something, and I know whether it’s me. It doesn’t engage me, it doesn’t involve me, I don’t feel I want to sit and listen to it. If I put an album on, I know within minutes, seconds, that I’m wanting to listen to that for the next 20 minutes, or it’ll come straight off again. You’re always experimenting with your taste, go back and listen to things you thought you liked or thought you didn’t like, so you realise you don’t really know yourself cause you’re a changing thing, but at the same time you don’t like everything. So I don’t like big band. For the moment. I’m not terribly keen on the old school tenors. It’s an unforgivable thing to say but Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young… I tried it, I’ve got some records by them. The thing, 40s, early 50s, just doesn’t do it for me. I like things that are difficult in a different way. That’s what I do. So I think we’re all influenced… there are a lot of live new jazz musicians, people who are trying to earn a living being a musician playing jazz. I met a guy, he was a pianist, at one of those listening sessions you have with friends. We go round, I bring 20 records over, he’s got a big collection, we open a couple of bottles of wine, we taste them, wines that we’ve never tasted before. I bring something interesting, he brings something interesting, and then we sit down and spend the afternoon listening to music on vinyl on his system. Occasionally there’s a guest in there, he’s a writer. One guest to the listening session was a pianist – he’s a jazz pianist. So we got talking. He must be a guy in his early 50s, and you know how he earns a living? He plays cocktail piano in hotel lobbies. He’s a jazz musician. He can’t earn any money. He can’t earn any money to pay the other musicians for a quartet. Nobody will pay what’s necessary in order for you to make a living as a jazz musician in a quartet, so occasionally just for the hell of it he raises enough money to get a gig, but gigs nowadays – sometimes the band has to pay to play because you get exposure, it’s so competitive. There’s no audience for it apart from a few clubs. Even Ronnie Scott’s – great jazz venue of the 1950s, now if you want to sit at a dinner table with supper menu and listen to some jazz while it’s going on. Is it a jazz club, is it a restaurant? Everybody’s got to make money to support their stuff. It doesn’t sell enough records. CDs don’t make much money, there’s no margin on it, they don’t sell any quantity. I feel sorry for musicians who’ve got to make a living or want to make a living out of jazz. It’s an incredibly principled thing to want to do. It’s a very hard road. It’s very hard to make a lot of money. You won’t be very successful, and I think the guys that – great people like Tubby Hayes, you know, why did he play? Because he didn’t make any money. He’d be better off going down Tin Pan Alley and doing some… any old stuff. Learn to play something else to make money. The guys that make jazz do it because they love it. That’s the only thing they want to do. And I know it’s the only thing that I really want to listen to, because that’s the only music they wanted to play and because they came alive while playing it. It’s that kind of spiritual experience of spontaneously making music with other people – makes it unique. There are a lot of players in America now. There’s a jazz tradition – New York, Lincoln Center, very important people with professorial posts in jazz, an academic scene of jazz, people go to university to study John Coltrane. You won’t get a job playing saxophone because you’ve got a PhD in Coltrane. John Coltrane is dead, but he left us a superb collection of music I can listen to today. I don’t need anybody to come along and play like John Coltrane because I already have it, I already have a collection. So, even for jazz fans, unless you’ve got a financial – Archie Shepp is still playing, he’s at jazz festivals at Porcaro in France. People will pay 40 quid to see him, and he gets enough money to make it worth his while to come down from Paris or whatever to play. But with those few exceptions, a girl can play a saxophone just as well as a boy, but who’s going to buy a CD of a new player? There’s so much competition, there’s so much freely available. My friend the pianist playing cocktail, hotel lobby music, is very sad. I think he’s actually – we were listening, I just happened to have a copy of the original pressing of Bill Evans Waltz for Debby album. I put it on the turntable, and he had a struck-by-lightning moment because that’s one of his favourite pieces of music by the best jazz pianist that there ever was, Bill Evans. And he would have heard it on CD, and heard reissues and that, and he would never in his life have ever heard an original pressing of Waltz for Debby, Bill Evans, and he sat there and said, “Sorry, can we cut the conversation? I just want to sit and listen to this because I’ve never heard it sound so beautiful.” I was really pleased because that was a musician listening to music, and I had lots of questions for him about, how do musicians listen to this music? What is it about the way Bill plays that made him so great? Because I listen to stuff. I have to struggle to find the words to describe music, which is what we try to do when we write. Well here’s a guy – he plays music. He couldn’t actually easily talk about it. Like, what’s so great about Bill Evans and Bud Powell? “Um… they were really good… um, uh, um…” Or they collapse into really technical stuff about diminished sevenths and, you know… but I don’t know what that means! That’s like mathematical music talk. That’s not my music talk. That’s not Whitney Balliett music talk. That’s musicians’ talk about augmented fifths and… glissando and… rubato… I had to go to Wikipedia to look up rubato, these musical terms. That’s an expert way of talking about music. I talk about the passion in it, I talk about the way they wander in and out of the tune, the way they expand down the neck, the unexpected twists and turns. I talk about Tubby Hayes’ tenors doing backflips when he goes back on the notes and a run of notes goes back on itself and does triple somersaults and works the whole of the apparatus that we talk about music as it sounds. But I was shocked a musician couldn’t talk to me about music because it all comes from the fingers. It comes from playing. I’d like to talk to more musicians about jazz and see how many of them… Jazz critics are about as close as we get. Gary Giddins did some completely great stuff. There are guys on YouTube who can do really good stuff talking about different artists. Ceecil Taylor, as they call him – not Cecil Taylor – Gary Giddins, I think, loves him, talks about him, and I go, “Maybe I should go listen to him again, because here’s somebody persuading me that I’ve missed – what I’m missing.” So musicians have my respect. Good for them. Indie bands – good luck.
Interviewer [1:33:25]: If we talk a little bit, just moving on to more political/social implications of jazz now – and if any of these don’t apply to you that’s fine – would you say that jazz, jazz activities had any sort of impact on attitudes in terms of race or immigration because of obviously where it came from?
Wilk: Some of the black players, people like Roland Kirk, who was blind, talked about this music as being black people’s music. And certainly something like 80 percent of the records on my shelf are played by black musicians. I’ve never given it a minute’s thought that they’re black. Race doesn’t come into music. It’s music. Its colour blind. When Bill Evans joined Miles Davis briefly, black musicians were saying, “What are you doing hiring a white pianist?” And Miles Davis said, “I don’t care whether he’s black, white, or green – he’s the person I want on my piano, in my band.” Musicians don’t have colour, but there was tremendous – the civil rights thing was a very influential driver for a lot of people. They talk about kind of white-man-played jazz – I find that an insult, I think the joke is like, can a white man play the blues? Well can a blue man play the whites? Music is part of society and part of culture, therefore you can’t but help say that – some people would say that it’s – the oppression blacks felt, you know, slavery drove them to try to earn a living the only way they could because of discrimination, which is showbiz and music. I don’t have any personal thoughts about that. I say it’s never influenced whether I like something or I don’t, or whether I like a person or I don’t like a person. I don’t… I don’t think there should, or is, a racial element in music, though I think some people in wider society would claim there is. The freedom movement in the 60s was very civil rights driven. You get people like Max Roach – “We insist, freedom now.” And they were fighting segregation in food parlours, so these guys would go into a segregated white eatery as black men, sit down, and order something to eat, and the police would be called to remove them because that was a segregated eatery. So the level of – American society wasn’t perfect. It was highly imperfect. A lot of people will try and persuade you that it’s still like that, and I think from what I’ve seen America is one of the most tolerant places on the planet. But there are people will tell you that it’s still racially divided. I personally don’t take a view on that. I think some people think there is, and I don’t think there is. I think we’ve moved on a long way in the last 50 years, and life is for the better for everyone. But there’s no doubt that jazz had a large… black musicians, so that’s, you know, it’s nothing that – Art Pepper was white, some of these guys – they were just all brilliant musicians, they didn’t have a problem with it. The bigger problem was actually drug taking. A lot of people, the wider society – a lot of musicians took drugs. We are talking hard drugs, we’re talking heroin. A lot of them were dead before they were 30, and a lot of talent was lost by heroin addiction, and a lot of great musicians like Bill Evans and Art Pepper were unreformed drug addicts, heroin addicts, until they died. And in order to get heroin they had to deal with the dealer network to get heroin, because heroin and these drugs were illegal, and the police were forever busting them because you could guarantee to bust a jazz musician because he would almost certainly be carrying drugs because he would be a drug addict. Some of those musicians were busted in cars, and sometimes one of the other musicians took the rap for the other musician in possessing drugs, so they went to jail rather than them, because if they were a top musician, the loss of their playing card – in New York you had to have a musician’s union card to play, and you were arrested for drug possession, narcotics, they would take your card away so you couldn’t earn your living as a musician in New York. Jazz musicians were quite persecuted for their drug habits. They destroyed themselves, they very often had to deal with people you wouldn’t want to deal with in life, and some of them got killed by… a famous one, Sonny Clark found dead in an alley outside a shooting gallery in his 20s. Was that a race thing? Was that a society thing? I think there’s a relationship between musicians, their lifestyle, and drugs that was a big problem and I don’t think we understand what a difficult life these people went through. I think that’s probably, to me, a more important thing than the race thing. We’re all different colours. That’s how it is.
Interviewer [1:39:40]: Thank you. Again on kind of a more political level, were any of your jazz activities, music activities at any time associated with any particular political views, or not?
Wilk: … I have deliberately not allowed any political discussion on my site, on my websites. And I don’t debate politics. I’m not saying I won’t talk politics with yourself or my friends. I do not put politics online because I believe it’s toxic. I have political views, but they’re my own views. I know bloggers who have gone into writing – these are black guys in New York. They feel…what’s the word I’m looking for? They feel society is still unjust. That’s down to them. I’ve read reviews on jazz sites, these rants, that you cannot love jazz and be a conservative. It’s impossible. This is all the racial politics of Obama. And I have people write to me about, what are my politics? I don’t discuss politics. I don’t think it’s any place. You can have a political discussion on a news site, you can all scream at each other, my site is mission-driven. Research and education about jazz. I don’t write about politics, I don’t allow other people to write about politics, because it’s toxic, and that toxic is because it takes you into places you don’t necessarily want to go. It’s not particularly helpful and it doesn’t actually help your love of jazz, which is I think nothing to do with politics. Music is music. When I was very young, I had political views. I marched in the streets with banners and whatever. I probably think different things then to what I do now. I still love music just the same. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with it, and I think – right, I said I wasn’t keen on rap. People do try and write political music. It doesn’t do anything for me at all. To me, music is music. It’s a language of itself, it’s a voice, it’s a human voice. The minute you add words – this is something we haven’t talked about – when you add words, songs, you add meaning, you create a narrative. You write about a thing. Most songs are about how much you love someone, or how much they love you, or how much you miss somebody, or just basic human interaction. Songs. Why are there almost no singers? I’ve got 1700 albums. I’ve got one jazz record with a singer, one Billie Holiday, and I don’t even like that very much. It’s because music is a language in itself. The minute you add lyrics to it – so this might be heresy for some people – it takes you to another place. What’s this about? It’s about how much I really miss the woman I love. Okay, great, well I can empathise with that because I miss the woman I love too, da da da. We’re starting to move into a different direction. You’re no longer listening to people improvising, using their instrument as an extension of themselves. A tenor saxophone is breath, a drum kit is an extension of your hands and feet, piano is an extension of your brain and your hands, a double bass is god knows what – an extension of something. Musical instruments take you over, they become part of you. Coltrane would say this. The man’s a devil with a horn in his mouth. Why do you play what you do? Why do you play the notes you do, why do you go to places you go to – because making music is a particular type of activity. Writing lyrics and singing them, cocktail jazz, hourglass, cocktail dress, the singer… When you go and see jazz now in most places, the first thing you’ll see is a singer. Ella Fitzgerald, yes, fine, okay, Billie Holiday. Sung music is a different sort of thing. All of the music I made when I was in bands were all songs. If you go to the charts, they’re all songs. There’s not a single instrumental thing there. It’s perhaps a discussion for another time and place, but why… There are a few jazz singers, I won’t say there aren’t, and some of them are very good, but why are 99 percent of jazz musicians simply instrumentalists? There’s a question that takes you to another discussion there. Why do most people think jazz is a jazz singer? And people like me who listen to jazz all the time don’t have any singers. That’s not to say I don’t like singing, but it doesn’t take me where I want to go. The human voice is something that moves you in a different way. I’ve got some CDs of some great singers that do very moving stuff, bring tears to your eyes, but it’s not jazz. It’s another kind of music. So, I have to kind of, I can’t – with politics, I have to part with the singing. The other thing I get into rows is I say I don’t like an instrument. I’m not terribly keen usually on the vibraphone or the harp or – there’s a few instruments – or the tuba. Things that I don’t think make good improvisational music. I guarantee you within a day somebody’s gone, “Ah, but so-and-so or so-and-so.” Everybody loves something, so you should probably never say you don’t like anything, but life’s too boring if you do. I’m willing to put my neck on the block and say what I like and what I don’t like. Life’s more interesting that way. But politics and singing are two things I don’t write about.
Interviewer [1:45:45]: No, that makes sense. So again, another kind of social implication… Some of this may not necessarily apply, some of it might, but the reaction of the older generation, your parents’ generation even, if not to your jazz activities then your music activities over the years…
Wilk: Well, my parents are no longer with me, but I know what they would have thought of me. They were very supportive when I was in a band. My mum bought me my first electric guitar. My next-door neighbour, whose son was a huge Beatles fan, was incredibly tolerant because my band used to rehearse on Saturdays in my parents’ garage – electrical, amplified instruments, and we used to bang out noise galore on a Saturday afternoon that echoed to the top and bottom of the street. The whole world was really quite supportive because everybody loved the Beatles and whatever. That was my impression. We were just making music, and young people having fun was always a good thing. A lot of us jazz fans are older generation. I’ve never done an age profile of people on my jazz site that I write, but I know from the ones I’ve had correspondence with that they’ve been lifelong collectors and they’re guys in their last working years of their life or whatever. And then there’s a whole bunch of people come up who are in their early 20s, who get introduced to this stuff, maybe by friends or their dad’s collection. I was in a record store once and a guy was buying some records. I said, “Oh, that’s really interesting, you’re in your early 20s. What are you doing buying this stuff?” He says, “Well, after my dad died I inherited his Blue Note collection and I really like that sort of stuff, so I’m getting more of it.” There was one lady, she was writing online – her father was a jazz musician, and while she was a little girl, she used to listen to jazz with her dad, so when her dad died – early – she bought records to reconnect herself with her experiences of being with her dad. That’s how life works for some people. I’m not terribly keen on my older generation’s taste in jazz. They grew up in the swing era. I get emails in from people who’ve inherited their grandpa’s jazz collection all the time. I say, “Well, give me a list of what you’ve got in it”, and I go, “Oh dear – 47 Stan Kenton albums.” Stan Kenton was really big at one time, and I’m sure a lot of people do like his stuff, but it’s not what’s collectible and what’s sellable today. If you go into a second-hand record store, you’ll find that every day somebody comes in with a couple of carrier bags full of museum music, the stuff from the 40s and 50s, which there is no market for, young or old. The old ones are dying, there collections are going on, but there is still a huge interest by young, old, and middle-aged. I get correspondence from a lot of guys in their 20s who are just starting out on collecting and they’ve got the bug, but they haven’t got the knowledge of it, they haven’t got the money sometimes, they’ve still got a career, they’ve got a family, they’ve got to worry about their jobs. But they’ve connected with the music. So I think it’s not so much a generation thing. Everybody listens to what’s current in their youth. Some people when they get older go to 60s or 80s tribute bands’ sessions. I’m sure there are plenty of people my age who’ve been to see ABBA the musical, getting up and down the aisles, because that was the music of their youth, or 80s night, disco or whatever. I don’t have a problem with people using music to reconnect with their past, and I don’t like a lot of today’s music, not because it’s young people’s music but because I don’t find any merit in it. It’s not that easy to play an instrument. You can’t learn it by making up samples on a laptop computer. I can’t tell the difference between some bands and another. I’ve tried modern indie, the sort of layered tonal soundscapes. It doesn’t do anything for me, but it’s not a generational thing. Good luck to them if they like it. I love music. I hope they love music. That’s the most important thing. It’s one of the pleasures in life, and I don’t think it’s a generational thing, in that I think it takes somebody who loves music and that can be someone of any age. That’s my experience. But the majority of young people today won’t be listening to jazz.
Interviewer [1:51:10]: When you started out and first picked up jazz, it was not something you’d listened to your whole life?
Wilk: I had when I was at college. And I’ve still got… Dave Brubeck Time Out, a further Time Out, a Charlie Bird album, and a few other ones. So I did actually listen to jazz but it was the popular jazz of the period. I mean, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out must have sold I don’t know how many million copies. I’ve still got an original copy of it on my shelf there. It’s not in very good condition because I didn’t look after my records. But pretty quickly I was buying what my generation were buying. Free, Deep Purple, all the progressive rock bands, all that stuff. We just flowed with the generation. Everybody was buying that kind of staff, that’s what we were listening to. I went to concerts to see Pink Floyd live, I’ve seen Jethro Tull live. It’s youth behaviour. It’s not really that music orientated. It’s a rite of passage of being a young person. And I wouldn’t take that away from anybody. You do what your friends do, you dress like your friends do, you get your hair cut the same way. One of you is a style leader, some of you are style followers. I went to Passing Clouds in Hackey to see Sun Ra Arkestra, who were from the 1950s and some of them are still alive and they’re playing in 2016, and there were… 95 percent of the people there were under 30. I’d say some of them were under 25 and wouldn’t have even been born when Sun Ra arrived. And there are three or four original members of the Sun Ra Arkestra, started in about 1956, still playing, and I think the lead – I forget his name now, the lead alto player is 91 at the moment, he’s still standing – and it was Sun Ra’s 100th birthday. That’s how they introduced it, 1956 to… sorry, 60th birthday, it was 19-whatever. Sun Ra himself was born in 1916 or something so he’d be 100 today if he was alive. And everybody was dressed in a really completely anarchic collection of styles, just what young people wear, wearing sun and moon onesies, all sorts of youth cult tribes and everything, and that’s great. They were all being young and they wanted a good time, they wanted an evening out, they wanted an experience, which Sun Ra Arkestra is, visually and to hear, and they weren’t jazz fans and they wouldn’t be listening to jazz but they were there seeing Sun Ra Arkestra, which has its roots right in Chicago and the jazz music of the mid-50s. And tomorrow night they’ll be seeing something else. I think there’s room for… Us oldies were the only people there who actually probably owned a Sun Ra LP. I’ve got some of the original – well, not original, some of the reissues from the 70s on Impulse. Nubians and some of those other ones there. They were selling CDs at the end of it, because the guy said, “I don’t want to have to take these back to the States with me, so please buy one.” And perhaps some people bought some. I don’t particularly expect young people to do anything other than do what young people always do. Girls are interested in, what, pretty boys, and the pretty boys are interested in the pretty girls. It’s a growing up part of life, rites of passage, going to festivals in Wellingtons, getting rained on, seeing friends, and the bands that you follow today, your favourite bands… next few years, there’ll be another group of people listening to different bands, and you’ll be kind of has-been, you’ll be going to tribute bands maybe when you’re 50 or 60, and good luck to you.
Interviewer [1:55:24]: So when you first sort of – you said that in your youth you’d had some jazz albums, and obviously over the years you have gone back into jazz – have you always had a peer group, friendship group that have kind of been interested in jazz also?
Wilk: Not for several decades. When I was listening to world music for probably about ten years – I’ve got Algerian raï, I have got lots of West African music, Senegalese – I used to go and see Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, I’ve been to the Ethiopian new year celebrations with Aster Aweke – all sorts of stuff I found very satisfying to listen to. It was all on CD, none of it was on… or it was on cassette tape, god help me. And I was lost, I was lost to jazz. If I’d heard some of that stuff, maybe… no, I think I was still trying all sorts of different things. And it wasn’t until I found my way back to jazz that I reconnected with it, and now I don’t listen to anything else, but there was a period of time when I would have listened to rock or blues or contemporary classical, British composers, going to all sorts of stuff. I think I’ve got an exhaustive 1000-CD collection upstairs, which I’ve collected over… since about 1985 through to 2003 or something, and there’s not much jazz in there. But all of that has informed my listening. When I hear John Coltrane, I’m listening to it in a context of having listened to Cape Verde mornas with completely different instrumentation, musical style, and everything, that’s what’s all in my head. So jazz is sitting on the throne on top of a huge body of knowledge of other music, and somewhere in there was a bit of jazz, but I think I wasn’t ready for it then.
Interviewer [1:57:48]: So would you describe your activities then as being professional now? Would you say you’re semi-professional or amateur?
Wilk: …I think I used the expression, I’m self-unemployed. Because I’m retired. I think I’m an amateur, because I don’t earn anything from it. In fact, my website actually costs me a few hundred pounds a year to keep, so I have a negative income from jazz. [laughs] And my records cost me quite a bit to buy, so… I wish that was tax-deductible. I should have taken up the offer of being a DJ – then I could claim my records as tax-deductible, but I can’t be bothered with that. I think I’m a dedicated and enthusiastic amateur. But I’m not bad at it. I can write pretty well, and I have enough people who say some very nice things about the stuff I write. It’s good. It’s good stuff. And I know it’s of a good standard. And I can get better – that I’ve got to look forward to.
Interviewer [1:59:00]: And actually, on that note, looking at long-term now, a bit into the future, are there any particular achievements of your activities so far that you would name, that you’re particularly proud of?
Wilk: … I enjoy things like being approached to do things on national radio or stuff like that. I think that’s quite pleasing. That’s an achievement, yes. Not everybody’s been interviewed by Gaby Roslin on the BBC. [laughs] Getting some recognition. I’ve been invited to contribute a lot of stuff to the 75th anniversary coffee table book of Blue Note. It was a real thrill. It was really nice to see your own work in a book sitting on my own coffee table there. Crossing one million page views was quite important to me. I never thought – I mean, I remember the first year, and I was a bit shocked that anybody was reading what I wrote. You can go to a lot of websites now, and you’ll see quite good writing, and you’ll go down to the comments and you’ve have, “There have been no comments on this.” So when I have a thread that runs for 60 or 70 comments from people all around the world discussing something, for me that’s really quite important. That’s tremendously satisfying, to be the coffee house place that people drop off to, to talk about the things they love. And that they know that they can come to this place and meet people around the world over on the same wavelength, on the same page, and they can show off what they know, or give other people hints, tips, or advice, things like that. So having created somewhere where people can go, a sort of virtual coffee shop to talk about jazz. In my professional life there was something called knowledge management, and how do you create knowledge, how do you perpetuate knowledge? What do you do with knowledge? Where do you keep it? My ambition – at the time, I had to do stuff, knowledge management to do with health care and all sorts of things – I’ve now used that knowledge management discipline to create a repository of knowledge about jazz. And I sort of have to kick myself every now and then when I wake up and say, “What have I done? What have you done?” I’ve enabled a conversation about jazz to take place, and it can be done through the Internet and through [inaudible], it couldn’t happen without, otherwise you wouldn’t even know anybody else existed. I think that’s great, I think that’s a really good thing to have achieved, and I’m very proud of it.
Interviewer [2:01: 59]: In terms of your activities or jazz more generally, would you say it’s had any sort of impact on British culture, however small or large?
Wilk: A lot of people have – because they write to me and say so – have been influenced to start listening to that style of music because they found it, they were looking for something else, trying this, trying that and the other, and they said, “What the hell is this?” My unique idea was to enable people to get a sample of what this music is all about by listening to it, five minutes of it, or whatever. It’s ripped from the original vinyl, there’s a lot of issues about - it’s just on streaming through a computer thing, but you can learn something about John Coltrane, you can listen to it, you can see physically what it looks like, you can get links to other things by John Coltrane, you can read other people’s opinions about him, you could even write your own if you wanted to, so there’s a tremendous amount of learning that’s possible because it’s got sound embedded in it. I’ll give you a quick parallel. I was once Googling – don’t ask me why – 1960s dance crazes, and I found a lot of websites writing about 60s dance crazes, the frug, the watusi. Do you know, not one of them had any film of anybody doing those dances. How can you just write about it? A dance is something you do. Why hasn’t somebody filmed themselves or a 60s clip of people doing the however-you-do-it, all of these dance crazes we all grew up with, the hoola-hoop dancing hip movements or whatever. How can you just write about it? And the penny dropped. How can you just write about music? What does it mean to hear somebody say John Coltrane is really great? What does “really great” actually mean? What does “great” sound like? What is this stuff called music? It’s stuff you listen to! Why can’t you – I know there’s issues about copyright, YouTunes and you can go onto YouTube, or whatever, but I wanted to write about music and enable you to hear the thing I’m writing about. And it was that bringing together of the words and the sounds that the webpage and blog system allows you to do. So I would go back to the dance craze analogy and say, what I’d try to create is something about the 60s dance crazes but you can actually see what they liked to do, and you can copy them if you want. And next time you go to a 60s-themed disco or dance party… I want people to be able to listen to the music as well as to read about it, and I also wanted them to be able to see the artist, the cover, the physical artefact. A download has no cover, there’s no picture. Some of these records from 1956 are physically beautiful objects. They bring tears to your eyes. They’re like antiques – they are the modern antiques. But unlike antiques, like a Ming vase… you can’t use a Ming vase to put flowers in. The record is a historical artefact, but hey, you can play it. [laughs] And it sounds better than anything else you’ll hear, in terms of download, CD, or anything else. So it’s like a Ming vase for flowers. It’s got that kind of analogy. So the fact that you can see it – I taught myself to take really good pictures of record covers, cover art, and I learned that through the work I did for the Blue Note album. So it physically looks on a screen what it looks like to physically own it and hold it. It’s 1600, 2000 pixels wide, it has all of the lighting, flat textured, opaque white ground. It’s like physically owning the record. And so hearing it, writing about it, reading about it, looking at it, and then having your own say, to me that’s kind of a unique thing. If I hadn’t done that, I’m not sure what I would be doing. Gardening? Going on luxury cruises with other old people? I got a new lease on life from jazz.
Interviewer [2:06:42]: And just finally, then, what are the future of your activities in jazz?
Wilk: I’m going to have to make a decision where I go from here, in the sense that I’ve written a lot about the records I’ve got. Unfortunate, in that there isn’t an end to this process. As long as I carry on paying for the server space and I keep the previous posts going, I find that I’ve evolved, about lots of things, different angles on things, and I think on past performance I’m going to find a lot of new things to write about. I’ve just done my first couple of obituaries. There are going to be a lot of jazz musicians still living who are going to die in the next 12 months. We’ve just had Toots Thielemans, Bobby Hutcherson, the recording engineer that virtually created jazz, Rudy Van Gelder just died aged 91. The New York Times rushes out an obituary the next day. They’ve probably got them all in a drawer somewhere called “pending” or “gonna die this year”. Sounds morbid. I think there are going to be more people I want to write about, and I haven’t felt strongly enough to write about them yet, but when Horace Silver died, I rushed out a retrospective of all his great Blue Note albums, and I kept going, and I thought, “This is never going to end.” I think there’s going to be a few more coming up soon. Maybe Archie Shepp, or all those guys who are still going. Chick Corea is still going, Herbie Hancock, there’s quite a few musicians, not even playing ones. I think Dexter Gordon is somewhere. I can’t remember which ones. There’s going to be a lot more to write about. I’m pretty sure about that, and that’s what I like doing, and as long as I still like doing it, that’s what I want to do.
Interviewer [2:08:46]: Thank you very much then.