The main reason it’s taken Jeremy Wilms so long to do his own thing is that he’s been so busy doing a little bit of everything. A jazz and classical composer; a singer-songwriter; a bandleader; a guitarist, bassist and keyboardist; an electronica producer; a rock musician; a composer of film scores; Wilms’ resume is remarkably varied and incredibly prolific, but has long been eclipsed by his busy work on Broadway stages and in sideman gigs.
That all changes with the 2014 release of Wilms’ debut solo CD, Diamond People, which showcases his eclectic jazz compositions and electrifying and soulful guitar playing. Like the titular gem, the album reveals Wilms as an artist of multiple facets, with music ranging from straightahead swing to angular modernity, electric funk grooves to prog complexity, African rhythms to chorale-like poignancy. Diamond People is soon to be followed by Wilms’ first release as a singer-songwriter, a distinct but equally heartfelt aspect of his musical personality.
A native of Miami, Florida, Wilms moved with his family to Atlanta at the age of twelve, where he began to study music and break into the local jazz scene. He studied classical guitar, composition and psychology at Georgia State University and was mentored by a number of great but undersung musicians on the Atlanta scene, including drummer Kinah Boto, who worked with the likes of Nneena Freelon, Russell Gunn, and Marcus Printup. Wilms repays Boto via the homage Blues for Kinah on Diamond People. Since arriving in New York City in 1996, Wilms has maintained an admirably hectic schedule, working in settings that cover a wide arc of the musical spectrum. He spent more than five years performing with the musical Fela!, beginning with its off-Broadway run and continuing through its much heralded Broadway production. Conceived by Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis, Fela! was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, winning three. In addition to that show, Wilms earned his Afrobeat cred subbing with the popular Brooklyn band Antibalas for more than six years, playing bass in the combustible ensemble which draws inspiration from the funk and jazz hybrids of Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 band and Eddie Palmieri’s Harlem River Drive Orchestra. Wilms also spent six months as guitarist for legendary drummer and bandleader Chico Hamilton, working closely with the influential jazzman, still strong in his (then) late 80s. He has performed in the orchestra of the late Butch Morris, the creator of the guided improvisation known as “conduction”. And for more than a decade Wilms played, recorded and composed songs with Spanish pop chanteuse Christina Rosenvinge, which involved collaborating with Steve Shelley and Lee Ranaldo of noise-rock stalwarts Sonic Youth. In addition, Wilms has performed and recorded with independent rapper El-P and played bass and guitar with Brazilian bossa nova singer Bebel Gilberto. He has played bass and keyboards with acclaimed indie rock band TV on the Radio, recording cello parts for their album Return To Cookie Mountain. Wilms is a founding member of the bands Chin Chin and King Mono and currently leads the prog rock band NOMOTO. He has composed music for several soundtrack recordings, including the Sundance Channel series Iconoclasts, the CNN documentary Far From Home, and the PBS online educational series Math Club.
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