Jazz Currents

Keith Hall

A greatly respected Michigan jazz artist, Steve Talaga says although he was tempted to uproot himself at times to pursue music, it turned out that Michigan was a wonderful place for him to play thousands of concerts, record albums, compose music, and teach the next generation of players. In a studio session at WMUK with Jazz Currents host Keith Hall, Talaga reminisces about the people and projects that have defined his career, which includes two decades as a faculty instructor at Hope College.

Herbie Hancock is probably his biggest musical hero, he tells Hall, saying it would be a dream come true to share tunes with the master. As a teacher, he admits he learns as much from his students as they do from him. Talaga is a prolific songwriter. He's appeared as a sideman on dozens of albums, and has released five solo albums under his name, filled with original material. In the WMUK studio, Talaga plays five solo versions of original tunes: "Comes the Dawn," "And Then Again," "Sacred Gifts," "Spikey," and "Country Dog."

Katherine Lane

Jazz pianist and composer Nicholas Olynciw (OH-lin-shoo) recently completed his master's degree in jazz performance at Western Michigan University, where he studied with Matthew FriesJazz Currents host Keith Hall visits with Olynciw in the Takeda studio at WMUK, where they talked about his Long Island, Texas, and Michigan connections, and Olynciw plays several new solo works:  "New Blues," "Associated," "Thermos," "Re-Pete," and "Dream Dancing."


Susan Wagener, Lens To Pixels Photography / http://www.lenstopixels.com/

Have you ever had a friend who can remember, and appreciate, the old days with a vividness that brings it all back to life? In this episode of Jazz Currents, host Keith Hall visits with with jazz pianist John Shea, of the John Shea Trio. He's a beloved West Michigan musician who never forgot a kind favor, a funny story, or a long-gone music venue. Hall and Shea both grew up in Battle Creek, MI.

Shea is a walking lexicon of jazz knowledge. His mentors included jazz drummer Bennie Carew, a bandleader who shaped the Michigan scene from the 1940s to 80s, and a music teacher, Margaret Skidmore, who vouched for the young Shea, then in ninth grade, to play piano in the pit for a production of Fiddler on the Roof. His variety of experiences, and his habit of always learning another tune has given Shea a staggering mental playlist upon which to draw.

In the studio at WMUK, John Shea plays Irving Berlin's "Always," Gershwin's "Someone To Watch Over Me," one of his own pieces, "Shawn's Blues," and others.


Keith Hall

John Proulx (pronounced "Proo") grew up in Grand Rapids, MI, where he started playing tunes by ear at an early age. He studied music at Roosevelt University in Chicago, moved to Los Angeles, and built a career performing as a jazz pianist for artists like Melissa Manchester, Anita O'Day, and Nancy Wilson. He also recorded four solo albums, most recently 2018's Say It But some of his biggest successes came as a songwriter. In 2006, his song "These Golden Years" was recorded by Nancy Wilson on her album Turned To Blue, which went on to win the "Best Jazz Vocal Album" Grammy Award.

John Proulx shares some of these experiences with Keith Hall and talks about what brought him back to Michigan to earn his master's degree at Western Michigan University, where he directs GCII. Proulx performs five of his own songs in the studio, including "Push Hands Annie," Stuck in the Dream With Me," "Stained Glass," "Proulx's Blues," and "Before You Know It."


image provided by the artist

The "Rob Clearfield sound" is hard to pin down. A natural improviser, he's able to create music with ideas like, "I think I'll start in D major." At the piano in WMUK's Takeda Studio, he tells Keith Hall about his musical development, which began at home with his mother, a classically-trained pianist/church organist. Another step forward came when she brought home a battered guitar, inspiring him to get the hang of popular music styles, which he then transferred back to the keyboard. Jazz became his dominant pursuit when his teacher randomly grabbed an album to play at the end of class. It was Wayne Shorter's "Witch Hunt," from Speak No Evil.

In the studio with Keith Hall, Clearfield begins with a piece he makes up on the spot. Then, he and Hall talk about his process of writing and improvising, centered around his newest collection of tunes, newly recorded on the album Wherever You're Starting From.


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