In less than a decade, vocalist Kalil Wilson has become one of the most potent and promising young vocalists of his generation. Gifted with a powerful yet nuanced voice and armed with a technical versatility that positions him comfortably in jazz, R&B, pop, and even classical, Wilson has earned high marks from the music press and has captivated audiences from Barcelona to Berkeley with performances that defy easy categorization. His bright reimaginings of jazz standards and originals are well-informed by the rich history of great jazz singing while melding seamlessly with his heartfelt, eclectic stylings.
An Oakland native, Kalil’s early life was filled with music. He is the son of well-known Nigerian bassist/bandleader Babá Ken Okulolo and an American mom whose huge record collection of vintage jazz, African, R&B, and salsa helped trigger Kalil’s musical awakening. He describes a later encounter with an aria from Puccini that left him shaken and moved. “It was just this incredibly visceral experience, turning your body into this sound cannon,” he recalls. As a youngster, he was mentored by the Oakland Youth Chorus and the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley. He went on to earn a spot in UCLA’s Voice and Opera program, performing classical music, while achieving an honors degree in a field he loved: ethnomusicology. “I was looking for that meaning I had encountered as a child, the idea of music as something that’s not isolated from the audience, that could move people and build a community.”
Although he was on track for a successful classical career, winning numerous competitions and singing lead opera roles and concerts, Wilson found himself gravitating back to jazz. “I started to realize that many of the musical styles I had heard when I was young are really forms of jazz,” he says. “They may not be called jazz, but they contain all the same forces that are at work in jazz. They are all conversations, people working things out within a melodic and harmonic framework.”
Encouraged in this pursuit by jazz legend Kenny Burrell, he recorded and released his first album, Easy To Love. The set showcases Wilson's unique renditions of beloved jazz evergreens like "Nature Boy" and "Day by Day" plus heartfelt, soulful interpretations of R&B favorites like "Song for You" and “If It’s Magic.
Listening to Oakland-born Kalil Wilson sing jazz favorites, soulful ballads, lush originals, and even operatic arias, you might start to wonder: is this the same voice? From the Metropolitan Opera to Walt Disney Hall, throughout Europe and the U.S., Kalil Wilson has captivated audiences and music critics alike with his vocal prowess and versatility. After earning a degree in ethnomusicology and vocal performance at UCLA, his musical heart called him to commit to jazz singing. That pursuit has taken him far, having shared stages with luminaries like Kenny Burrell, Carlos Santana, Esperanza Spaulding, and Omara Portuondo. His bright re-imaginings of jazz standards and originals bow to the rich history of great jazz singing while melding seamlessly with his heartfelt, eclectic stylings. While he's home in the Bay Area, jazz lovers have the chance to be stirred by his unique interpretations and amazing, velvety voice.
On his second full-length album Time Stops, Kalil is joined by his regular trio: Dan Marschak, Ryan Lukas, and Genius Wesley. Marschak is an Oakland-born pianist, composer, and educator, and his 2011 album Likewise was heralded as “adventurous and well developed” by Lalo Schifrin. In 2011, he co-founded Well Versed Productions, a music composition/production company with notable producer and drummer Miles Senzaki. Together, they have scored many projects, including several short films and three full-length feature films. As a composer, Marschak reflects his love of both improvised music and contemporary classical music, and deals with extended harmonies and textures with an improvisatory approach. In 2015, he co-founded the composer-performer collective LA Signal Lab, which was recently awarded a New Music USA grant, and has completed its 3rd season with concerts at UCLA, the Pasadena Steinway Gallery, The California Jazz Conservatory, and an artist residence at Avaloch Farms. Marschak holds an MA in Composition and dual BA’s from UCLA in Composition and Ethnomusicology (Jazz Studies). He has served as musical director for Kalil Wilson for ten years. Ryan Lukas is originally from Rochester, NY. He studied at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, NY. He has played multiple genres of music in the Capital Region since he moved here in 2001. Since that time he has enjoyed tenures with ensembles that include The Brian Patneaude Quartet, The George Muscettello Group, Mojive, Bone Oil, and various other projects ranging from existential, post-industrial funk to epistemological neo-traditional jazz. Genius Wesley is a young prodigy drummer and percussionist who performs regularly at the Oaktown Jazz Workshop and The Young Musicians Choral Orchestra.