Jazz Currents

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.


Joe Policastro

Near the release of the Joe Policastro Trio's latest album, Screen Sounds,  Jazz Currents host Keith Hall invited bassist Joe Policastro, guitarist Dave Miller, and drummer Mikel Avery to show off their sound in WMUK's Takeda Studio, and have a conversation about the rock, soul, film, and pop influences that appear in their creative arrangements.

One of the unusual things about the trio is they have their own personal "sandbox" for exploring music together: a 3-day-a-week standing gig at the Chicago nightclub Pops for Champagne, which allows them to explore their repertoire to the edges. The three members of the trio talk about their work together and apart, and how they find compelling music in everything from Japanese westerns to daytime soap operas.


Johnny Rodgers

Johnny Rodgers began his life as a performer in theatre - singing, writing songs on piano, and dancing - when he was a boy growing up in Florida, egged on by his music-loving grandmother.  But he credits Western Michigan's Gold Company, and director Steve Zegree, with some of the most critical training for his career. Today he is an acclaimed one-man-band performer about whom the Chicago Tribune wrote: "He plays piano better than most singers. He sings better than most pianists. And he writes songs better than most singer-pianists." (Reich, Howard. "Johnny Rodgers: A Singer-Pianist For All Seasons." Chicago Tribune. Nov 25, 2014).  

Rodgers joined Jazz Currents host Keith Hall in the studio at WMUK during a visit to his alma mater in December 2017. He plays his own songs, "Home To Mendocino," "The Best of You And Me," and "Mid-Day Moon," as well as the popular song, "What a Wonderful World."


sunnywilkinson.com

Sunny Wilkinson, a beloved jazz vocalist in Michigan who has trained a generation of singers at both Michigan State and Western Michigan Universities, recently decided to take a little time for herself and her trio in the recording studio, which resulted in her new album, Into The Light.

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