By George Halas
One of Wisconsin’s best bands, KWT Featuring Tom Washatka, will perform at The Trout Museum of Art on Thursday, March 16th at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Jazz at The Trout series.
The group includes Scott Dercks, guitars, Kevin Wells, bass and Tony Taylor, drums as well as Washatka, arguably Wisconsin’s best saxophone player who also plays wind synthesizer on many of the band’s original compositions.
Jazz at The Trout artistic director John Harmon is very excited in anticipation of the performance.
“This is going to be a beautiful highlight. We’ve never had a band like this before,” Harmon said. “We are going to show our audience that there is more than one spoke in the jazz wheel. These guys are exquisite. I’ve known Tom Washatka and Tony Taylor since we played together in Fire & Ice. Tony is one of the better, naturally talented and gifted drummers. He’s very impressive. Tom not only performed wonderfully, but wrote a number of great tunes for our book. He has serious gifts and takes a very creative approach. He knows what he wants and goes and gets it. It’s always going to be very exciting.”
The appearance at The Trout represents something of a benchmark for the group. The Inquisition previously provided insight into their music and aspirations in the February 2015 issue of SCENE when Dercks had joined the band and the name was changed from KWT4 to the current moniker.
“Yes, the Trout Art Museum will be one of our highest profile gigs to date,” Washatka said. “I played the jazz series a few years ago with my quintet which helped to give us an inside track. It was a blast to have played the venue before and it will be a blast to play it again with this group. We’ll be performing all original material.”
Firmly rooted in jazz, the band’s original music is infused with rock, R&B and funk flavorings that yields music that is at once complex and nuanced enough to satisfy the most ardent jazz aficionado while providing a unique accessibility to the more casual listener.
The Inquisition has heard more than once, “I don’t like jazz, but I like this,” at a KWT gig. Very few jazz outfits in the Fox Cities – and in Wisco, for that matter – emphasize and play original compositions.
Both Washatka and Dercks have proven to be outstanding and prolific composers.
“We have grown and continue to grow a great original book. Our gigs consist mainly of original tunes,” Washatka said. “As part of the discovery process, the exploration of new material is integral. As a composer there’s nothing more rewarding and affirming than to have my music performed, and performed by a group of musicians that represent. When I write for this band I try to write to its strengths. Everyone has a different musical personality and unique sensibilities and sensitivities, while I also try to keep the music challenging and interesting I try to keep everyone’s ‘voice’ in mind. So I have a very good idea how the tune will sound before it’s performed. I’ve been writing for a very long time, so I’ve been able to pull some tunes from the past that are perfect for this band.”
The original music is a primary driver and critical to the high expectations the band has for itself.
“Making a living making music is an interesting process,” Washatka said. “Because it’s just that – a process, a work-in-progress. One never arrives, but rather is in a constant state of becoming and discovery. The discovery part is paramount to me. As long as that continues the music will continue. I have really only two expectations…one is that the band brings its top game to every gig regardless of venue or context. And two, that the band honors the intent and groove of the music. If those things are not there then the rest doesn’t matter.”
Dercks’ highly accomplished and versatile playing has proven to be a superb complement and counterpoint to Washatka’s sax and wind synth; he has delivered the hoped-for infusion of energy into the music, and he adds to the band in other ways as well.
“Scott’s playing his ass off, and his energy radiates to the rest of the band and then out into the audience,” Washatka said. “His instant rapport with an audience is very contagious and helps to keep things loose and enjoyable. He’s got a great sense of humor and a very quick wit. Scott and I share the role of talking to the audience and I think we’re perfect foils for each other. Scott’s contributed some great tunes, very fun to play. His writing is firmly rooted in traditional jazz yet has a contemporary sound and groove. His use of different guitars, effects and sounds really help to establish that.”
They’ve received very positive comments from both fans and newcomers.
“One comment was ‘I’ve been to many concerts throughout the U.S. and this show is about as good as any of them,’” Washatka said. “It’s inspiring to know audiences are enjoying the band.”
The band plays once a month at Becket’s in Oshkosh and performs frequently at Manila Resto, but their every-other-Thursday gig at Lion’s Tail Brewing Company in Neenah has proven to be transformative.
“What a fantastic venue!” Washatka said. “It’s a perfect context for working on new material. It’s loose and informal. We let the audience know we’re still learning tunes in real time. We call these gigs the “sessions.” The audience loves being on the inside and a part of the process. Alex Wenzel is one of those rare venue owners who’s a real advocate of the music…and brews a great beer!”
The Jazz at The Trout series presents the contemporary jazz trio, Stuck on Blue, on April 20th and the Season VII concludes with “World Percussion with Jazz” on
May 18th the featuring Maxim Confit including Dane Richeson, Christos Rafalides, Michael Spiro and Mark Urness.
For tickets to all of the performances, go to: http://www.troutmuseum.org/Events/Jazz-at-the-Trout
If you missed the “Salsa In The Snow” concert February 27th at Waverly Beach featuring the very accomplished and always fun Salsa Manzana and would like to donate to the Appleton-based nonprofit that serves over 5,500 students at more than thirty music programs throughout Haiti, go to http://www.blumehaiti.org/donate-money.html to donate online or send a check made out to BLUME Haiti to BLUME Haiti1028 E. Greentree Ct., Apt C, Appleton, WI 54915
The Inquisition first discussed this very worthy cause last year: http://new.scenenewspaper.com/2016/02/salsa-manzana-coming-to-lawrence-university
I received this complimentary note about writer George Halas, from Tom Washatka:
“Thank you George Halas for being such an incredible advocate of the music community in the Fox Valley and beyond. We couldn’t do it without the visibility you provide both personally and professionally.” T. Washatka