N.E.W. Music Moves and Grows

By George Halas

KWT Featuring Tom Washatka: left to right: Scott Dercks, Kevin Wells, Tom Washatka, Tony Taylor

KWT Featuring Tom Washatka: left to right: Scott Dercks, Kevin Wells, Tom Washatka, Tony Taylor

Loyal Inquisitors may recall previous references to jazz-fusion band KWT4 and the group’s strong debut album, Band Box. There may have been some mention of how well the band played live…

The group is moving forward as guitarist and Appleton native Scott Dercks joins saxophonist Tom Washatka, bassist Kevin Wells and drummer Tony Taylor as the newly re-christened KWT Featuring Tom Washatka.

Dercks, who recently moved back to the area after 20 years working as a professional musician in Minneapolis, previously played with Washatka in the highly regarded group Nearvana. He will have an immediate effect on the live sound.

“The energy Scott brings is infectious, contagious,” Wells said. “He brings a new perspective to what we do. The sound should evolve rather quickly. His energy and his approach will reflect on all of us.”

“Anytime you have an infusion of new material, it creates excitement,” Taylor added. “It allows me to express myself in different ways, and, as musicians, we’re always looking for new ways to express ourselves.”

“Scott has a different energy and a different approach to the instrument,” Washatka said. “His sound complements the new material we’re learning. This is the sound I envisioned.”

“What I’d like to do,” he added, “is to keep moving towards an original book. I’m encouraging everybody to bring stuff––even if it’s just a groove or an idea––and we’ll develop it collectively.”

“I’ve always liked the idea of collaborative efforts and having a strong framework in which to work and grow,” Dercks said. “Everyone gets a feeling of ownership. It’s not an individual’s effort, it’s the band’s effort.”

The process already had a test drive with “Attaboy,” a Washatka composition that became the first cut on Band Box and a highly-requested staple of the live shows.

“I’m not sure we’re playing it the way Tom envisioned,” Wells said, laughing.

“Everyone added something,”Washatka noted, “and it is evolving again as Scott is putting his signature on it.”

“I’m looking forward to getting involved in the music and the arrangements as well as bringing in some ideas,” Taylor said. “We all want to contribute more artistically.”

Dercks has “at least a hundred” original compositions that he is excited about getting the ‘band” treatment.

“I want to play music that is more sophisticated, higher energy, more contemporary,” he said. “I love old style jazz, but I want to play funkier, groovier stuff that people can dance to if they want and listen to if they want. Something for mind, something for the body. This band will challenge everyone.”

SI_MikeMalone1“I hope people will come out and hear (the new music),” he added. “The area has gotten much more cosmopolitan over the last 20 years but the music has not.”

For Dercks, this is setting up to be an ideal situation.

“This is exactly the kind of music that I want to play with exactly the players I want to play with,’ he said. “This is a semi-established band––we’re not starting from scratch––so the opportunities to play festivals and tour are much closer than they would be with a band just starting out.”

The quartet makes it live debut at Becket’s in Oshkosh on Friday, February 13––no cover.

“Scott will be a good fit, I think, for what they want to achieve,” said former KWT4 guitarist Tom Theabo, who is moving on to new projects of his own. “In addition to Janet Planet, I’ll be playing in a trio with (drummer) Mike Malone, (bassist) Andy Lincoln Sachen or John Gibson.”

“Right now, it’s The Mike Malone Trio,” Malone said, “but these guys are so good––we’re trying to think of a name that characterizes all three of us.”

The musical community in the Fox Valley is one very good drummer richer with Malone back in town. Originally from the area, he dropped out of UW – Eau Claire to tour with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, went back and graduated, then toured Europe with Ray Brown, Jr.He’s back for the foreseeable future.

“I like this area. I have family here,” he said. “I’m putting down some roots and getting grounded.”

In addition to the trio, Malone joined Theabo and Sachen in backing Planet at her last gig and “hopes that we get to play together more.”

“Mike’s a fabulous drummer. He listens well, has great time, a very good technical drummer,” Planet said. “He played with us because my regular drummer was not available. A couple days before the gig, I started sending him charts to look over. Two days later, he’s got every arrangement, every kick down. Must have been 20 tunes!”

“I guess if you play with Roy Brown and Ella Fitzgerald’s son for eight months,” she added, laughing, “you gotta keep great time.”

Malone and trumpeter Kurt Shipe have started the Water City Jazz Orchestra.

“Kurt and I went to college together and, now that we’re back in Oshkosh, we have been talking about bringing a big band to Oshkosh. Fond du Lac has one, Appleton has one, so we think Oshkosh should have one, too.”

Talk turned into action. The Water City Orchestra will be playing the last Monday of every month at Manila Resto in Oshkosh.

Wherever one might see/hear Malone, those-in-the-know are grabbing a copy of his CD, Overalls and Airplanes. Save for the closing tune, “Curtain,” written by saxophonist Sue Orfield, the album features all Malone original compositions.

SI_MikeMalone2He demonstrates as a composer that he has easy command of many jazz styles with his own unique signature. He writes very well for the other instruments and gives them more than adequate space to expand and express. Instead of drums solos, he creates sonic landscapes in which the drums take the lead and inform the melody.

Very good stuff. Available at or CD’s at the gigs.

One place to catch Malone occasionally…and a lot of other very good players is Cena––College Avenue, Appleton––on Tuesday nights starting at 8:00 PM. Officially, it’s “Christine Granatella with Noah Harmon and The Jazz Orgy,” but it’s grown into a very cool, very friendly gathering of the musical glitterati as different players show up on various Tuesdays creating interesting and pleasing musical combinations. Granatella, et al, have put together a most special evening––no two are alike but all are a lot of fun. No cover––great food––reasonable drink prices. Brian behind the bar is a big plus.
Catch you on the Fun Way.

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