A beloved crooner in Western North Carolina, Wilson performs in as many different and varied groups as there are days in the week. One day, he’ll jump in with an old-time gypsy jazz outfit at a wine lounge playing selections from the 1920s and 30s, the next, he’ll be adorned in a tuxedo fronting a 16-piece big band orchestra onstage playing numbers from the 40s and 50s.
And no matter what the situation, all eyes tend to fall on Wilson. He not only commands a space with his impressive octave range, he also possesses the power to split a room like the Red Sea, where both sides are singing back and forth while Wilson conducts the melodic madness.
Wilson and his trio will be kicking off the Fall for Jazz series on Oct. 11 at The Classic Wineseller in Waynesville.
Smoky Mountain News: What was your first memory of hearing or seeing music?
Russ Wilson: I’ve heard music since I was a baby, but my first truly vivid memory was watching TV in 1972. I was six years old and I saw this TV special hosted by Doc Severinsen. There I got my very first taste of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa. From that moment I was hooked. I wanted to hear more. I wanted to find out who these people were, what this music was — this was it.
SMN: You specialize in old-time melodies, whether it be jazz, big band standards or traditional and string. What about that era in music, 1920s to 1950s, appeals to you, why does it call out to you to perpetuate the old sounds and keep them alive and vibrant?
RW: My dad is the one to blame for this. He had these old Reader’s Digest box sets of records that I played over and over. I loved this music. I wasn’t interested in the music of “my generation” at all. The old stuff is what I grew up listening to. The music has body, it has a melody that you can remember and hum to yourself. It has thoughtful lyrics even if they’re sometimes silly. In my opinion, most of today’s music doesn’t have any of that. It just has a beat and lots of foul language. I don’t want to hear that, let alone sing it.
SMN: Why is it important that those old-time songs aren’t forgotten or lost, and are continually kept in the minds and hearts of the public?
RW: The music of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Green and so many others are an important part of our musical history, our country’s history and our family’s history. As I see it, we live in what I call a “disposable world.” If you’re in a hurry, you can grab a drink and throw away the can. You can grab something to eat and throw away what you don’t want. People buy clothes, wear it once and get rid of it. A lot of today’s music is the same way. You hear it today and something new is hot later today. These old songs have stood the test of time. I sing them because I love them and they fit my voice. But if I didn’t sing them, someone out there will. They will never die.
SMN: What can a fast-paced, rush-priority, modern-day world learn from those old-time songs?
RW: Slow down. Take a moment and listen. Enjoy. Savor. Good music is like good wine.
Wineseller kicks off jazz series
Russ Wilson and His Trio will kickoff the “Fall for Jazz” series at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11, at The Classic Wineseller in Waynesville.
Other performers in the series include Rockell Scott & Richard Shulman on Oct. 18 and the Keith Davis Trio Oct. 25. Each night includes a lavish four-course dinner with live jazz for $39.99 per person.
828.452.6000 or www.classicwineseller.com.
1 Bluegrass sensation Town Mountain will perform at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 in the Macon County Heritage Center at the Historic Cowee School in Franklin.
2 The 31th annual Church Street Art & Craft Show will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 11 on Main Street in downtown Waynesville.
3 Pianist/singer Sam Stringfield will perform at 9 p.m. Oct. 11 at Innovation Brewing in Sylva.
4 The Trail Magic Ale No. 9 Release Party will be Oct. 17-18 at Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City.
5 Grammy Award-winning bluegrass act The Steel Drivers will perform at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Stecoah Valley Center in Robbinsville.