Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Guest Artist Feature: Christian Wiggs - Jazz Vocalist, Part 2

The Start of New Things: 2015

Back at the start of this year gigs were great and to top it off, a life-long friend of mine, Zack Kibodeaux (Blue Water Highway Band), told me about an opportunity he might have for me and asked if I would send him my materials. I didn’t think much of it, especially only being eighteen years old at the time, I was certain that I wouldn’t be a strong contender...

In March 2015, I got a call from Steve Moreland, a bandleader/trumpet player out of Austin. Steve ran his own entertainment company, Moreland-Young Entertainment, with his wife, Tori Moreland, & David Young, one of Chicago’s greatest trumpet players. The reason for his call was that he was referred to me by several sources of being a jazz vocalist. Steve wanted to know my interest in an audition for his big band, The Vintage 15. I couldn’t believe I was having the conversation, but obviously I was all in. We exchanged emails and calls over the next month until my audition in April. It wasn’t long after that I was notified that they wanted to go my direction with the big band. That was quite a day to remember. My excitement was through the roof and I would be starting within just two weeks, taking over for the amazing jazz vocalist, Kevin Ahart.

Performing with the group was out of this world. The band was so tight and sounded great. The bandstand was packed full of Austin’s greatest jazz musicians. I knew I was in my element and it felt like I was truly where I needed to be. The more we performed, the more I comfortable I felt, not only on stage, but with the musicians and bandleaders alike. We thrived off of each other. My networking in this area had started and was growing like crazy. I met so many killer musicians and started playing with them frequently.

This brings us to just here recently, around August 2015. It often crossed my mind to have material professionally recorded. It always seemed like a far off dream, but one day I started thinking. With the support I had now from my hometown and the Austin area alike, fundraising an album didn’t seem so far-fetched. I immediately started putting together a budget and got in touch with musicians I highly respected to see how they would feel about recording on it. It seemed like all lights were green and the budget, although large, seemed obtainable. I started a GoFundMe page with all of the needed information about where benefactor’s donations would go and booked several shows to market as fundraiser shows. My goal was to record and have the album out by the new year. After a couple weeks on GoFundMe and two shows, there was enough backing to pay for the studio session and musicians. 

It was November 10th when we headed into the studio, a day that was so very special to me. Everyone on the crew down to the photographer were a delight to work with. It was important that we record as soon as possible, and after talking about the reality of this with the sound engineer, I knew I needed to release it on December 12th, Sinatra’s 100th birthday. As one of my greatest musical inspirations, I wanted to honor him in the greatest way I knew how: to release my first record on his centennial. Each chart pays tribute to classic recordings by the timeless musicians who inspire me most. 

There was another special man I needed to acknowledge. From the origin of the idea to record an EP, I knew immediately that it had to be dedicated to my greatest mentor and my friend, Brian Casey. He is the reason I am the musician that I am today. Without him, I doubt any of this would have happened. The title of the album is “Wonderful You Came By”. A fun little bit of information for you jazz enthusiasts out there, I wanted the title to have a classic jazz sound to it. One of my favorite charts, although it isn’t on the track listing, is Orange Colored Sky. If you take a listen closely to the lyrics, you might recognize four of those words! A long, long month later, the record was complete, everything was paid for and I already had an overwhelming positive response to the recording, in sales and reactions. Due to popular demand, I am currently printing the first edition of physical CD’s, which will be available for purchase at the very start of 2016. As Ol’ Blue Eyes sang himself, it was a very good year.

[Editor's Note: purchase a digital copy of this wonderful CD here: http://christianwiggs.bandcamp.com/releases]

All the while, I was gigging most every weekend with V15 all across Texas in various cities and continue to do so currently. Be sure to catch us at a show at www.thevintage15.com or my website, www.christianwiggs.com.

I mentioned a few of my inspirations that directly impacted me, but these aren’t the only ones. When I listen to this music, the standards, the classics, I always walk away inspired by these great crooners. Well, they were so many things: musicians, entertainers, artists. What they have created is simply this: art. The greatest of these influences for myself have to Sinatra and Chet Baker. Baker was most notably a trumpet player, but had such a unique, delicate vocal sound as well. One of the greatest records of all times that I’m constantly called back to is Chet Baker Sings. As a trumpet player/vocalist, it serves as a “musical bible”. Not far behind them are familiar & unfamiliar names Ella Fitzgerald, Tony DeSare, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Michael Bublé and Bobby Darin just to name a few. There are so many great artists out there and it is a really special thing to listen to each of them and their interpretations. As an artist myself, one of my main goals is to honor their styles and bring something new to the table as well.

To those of you who aspire to be a musician, I want to encourage you that it is possible to be successful in that! Now, I don’t want to make it seem like it will a walk in the park. It is far from that. You’ll find yourself clocking hours and hours (really more like weeks and weeks) devoting that time to building up your career. But, it is because of those hours that will make you stronger as a musician and a person. As terribly cliche as this sounds, let the music be a portrayal of your emotions. You can spot the difference one hundred miles away of a musician who plays from their heart as opposed to playing the ink on the page. Always surround yourself with musicians that are better than yourself. When you commit to being a musician, you’re committing to being a student for life. Music is such a vast, broad field that you can always learn something new, especially when it comes to jazz. Listening to style and staying humble is such a key element. It is so easy for people to get lost in the industry and lose sight of the reason you got into it in the first place. Remember that the music is where the truly beautiful things come from.
We’ve all heard it said, “In this business, it’s all about who you know.” While that is true, even more importantly, it is about who knows you.

If you have questions, there are so many people around you who want you to succeed, use them. Likewise, if you have any questions for me, please feel free to contact me through my website, www.christianwiggs.com! I would love to help in any way I can and give back, just like my mentors gave back to me.

Wonderful You Came By” is available on iTunes, BandCamp, Google Play, Amazon Music, Rdio, Tidal, YouTube Music & more. You can also access it through my website, which will be listed again with all of the links below. I am available for hire in several different band sizes including quartets, combos, full 15 piece big band, big band with strings & more. Availability and booking can be found through Moreland-Young Entertainment, www.morelandyoungentertainment.com!

Thank you so much for taking the time to have me talk to you. It was a pleasure to share a small part of my life with you all here today and a special thank you to Charles Wolf for having me on as a guest!
-Christian Wiggs

Websites, Booking & Store:

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Guest Artist Feature: Christian Wiggs, Jazz Vocalist, Part 1

My Journey to Become a Professional Jazz Vocalist

            Hello! I am very honored to be writing to you all today. When Charles approached me to be a guest writer following the release of my first record, “Wonderful You Came By,” I was more than happy to be a part. After reading about a bit of his work, I became a fan! It really was a privilege to be asked. As we go a little bit deeper into my story, I’m excited to share with you the inspirations and experiences that have helped to shape me as a musician.

I was born and raised in Lake Jackson, Texas and started becoming familiar with the arts at a very early age. Growing up in a very musically active family, I began musical theatre at the age of four, quickly learning that I enjoyed singing and being on stage very much. With a community that avidly supported the arts, I found that I felt at home in whatever musical outlet was available.

As I progressed in school, I was introduced to the band program and it's wonderful educators. It’s funny, the audition process of finding the instrument that suits you was oddly similar to the sorting hat process you see in Harry Potter! Sometimes you get the instrument you wanted, other times not, but you always seem to end up with whatever instrument suits you. For myself, this instrument ended up being trumpet. For the first few years, I admittedly put trumpet on the back burner to focus further on being a vocalist. But, when the time came for high school at Brazoswood High, I realized that band program was very fruitful. I greatly looked up to the musicians that excelled from this program and went off to do great things. At that point, I would say my musical emphasis did a 180. I started focusing on trumpet much more intensely than my voice. Not that I enjoyed one more than the other, but I realized that my instrumental playing needed quite a bit of work.

My studies in trumpet started to be very productive, passing through all six bands that the program had to offer. There are so many educators who were incredibly vital to this process, but especially my band directors such as Amy Walden, Martin Montoya and my greatest mentor Brian Casey. Mr. Casey is a constant source of inspiration. He recognizes talent and hard work, and he supplies his students with every tool needed to be successful. When I began my last year of high school, Casey pitched the idea of performing as a vocalist with one of the jazz ensembles that I was also playing trumpet in at the time. Although I was new to jazz, especially vocally, I had always enjoyed that style of music, but never really explored it. The process was something that I very much enjoyed. After my first performance, I fell in love with big band jazz.

Soon after, Casey had let me know about a competition to be the opening act for jazz pianist/vocalist, Tony DeSare, paired with the Houston Symphony Orchestra at Jones Hall. I submitted the performance recording from a month prior, and to my surprise, I was selected! The whole experience was something special. With the help of Mr. Casey, we put together a jazz combo with some of Houston’s finest gigging musicians, as well as my best friend and outstanding trumpet player, Nathaniel McKay. Our three-night engagement with HSO set me on a path that would end up being my passion.

            Only two months later in March, Mr. Casey and I decided that what we had going on in that gig was something that we should make a regular thing. With the rising popularity in live music around our town, we figured it was the perfect time to start. I formed the group, “Christian & The Wiggs” and started gigging frequently. It only took a few gigs before we gained a residency at a local restaurant and began making a name for ourselves in the community. Even though I was finishing high school, my sights were set far beyond the next few months ahead of me.

Now, I may have been a bit ambitious, but within proper means, that ambition can be a great source of fuel and it was. Because of the fact that we had a residency, I knew there had to be something to entice people to come back and see us. So, that’s where the idea came from to have guest artists. The thought behind it was that we would have, for the most part, a consistent rhythm section [editor’s note: in a jazz group this consists of the drum, bass, with piano and/or guitar] and bring in guest horn [brass] players each week. Most of the time we just had one guest artist, but it was always more fun to have multiple, so occasionally we would bring in two horns such as a saxophone, trumpet and/or trombone as well. When any of the core rhythm section players were out, I started to expand the guest artist idea to those instruments as well.

Sure enough, it worked well! An aspect that I hadn’t first considered was that this was a great outlet to network. I was about as green as you can be starting out in the gigging scene, but certainly came to my advantage. With each guest artist that I worked with, I started to develop friendships with them and I networked through their contacts as well. Before I knew it, I had a contact list of players that was getting lengthy. These contacts lived in multiple cities as well, which made it easier when I wanted to book shows outside the limits of Lake Jackson. By June, I had expanded into Houston and played at a jazz club/bar near Downtown. I finally felt like I was fitting into a groove and getting the hang of both the performing and business side of gigs, so naturally, it came time for me to leave and pursue a music degree at a university.

            I wouldn’t say that I was reluctant to leave and begin college, but I definitely felt in my element when I was performing and managing gigs. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew that if I wanted to progress in my talent and in my networking, school was necessary. Although I loved playing my horn, I thought it would be the best idea to not play my first semester just to focus fully on vocal training, considering of course that I had no idea what awaited me. 

When I started at Texas State University, I dove in headfirst. I stacked classes and became involved in multiple ensembles. I had been in such a habit for years of wanting to be in over my head with my busy schedule. Stress seemed to feel like home, but in a positive way. Now, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t still engaged in planning shows and working a calendar to see my next available weekend to travel back home. When I wasn’t practicing or studying, my mind immediately was drawn to gigs. That can be dangerous if you let it interfere with your schoolwork as a full time student, but if anything it motivated me to complete my mental check off list.

The degree that I chose to pursue was a classical vocal emphasis, which I was fairly excited about. I very much enjoyed (and still do) the classical side of things. But, after my first semester I realized it was not where my heart lied. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy it and it doesn’t emotionally move me, because it does, it was just that jazz seemed to move me even more in an inexplainable way. It was my niche. This made coming home for the Christmas holidays especially exciting because we then had a good holiday run of gigs.

            After a quick rough patch coming back for my second semester, my love for music was rejuvenated, especially for jazz. A single performance brought me back from a dark couple of weeks of uncertainty and self-crippling doubt about my abilities. Seeing saxophonists Ralph Bowen & Russell Haight, drummer Butch Miles, lead trumpet Steve Hawk and other stellar musicians was a complete turnaround and inspiration. Before the previous semester ended, I decided that enough time had passed since playing my horn in an ensemble and this was the exact kick-start I needed to open up my case.

 I auditioned and ended up grabbing a spot in the Jazz Lab Band, which was directed by Steve Hawk. My studies were stacked up again, but there was more going on outside of the walls of the university as well. It wasn’t long after that when Christian & The Wiggs began getting calls for private events and offered gigs at other restaurants/clubs in the Houston & Lake Jackson area. School was great, really great. Gigs were great and to top it off, a life-long friend of mine, Zack Kibodeaux (Blue Water Highway Band) told me about an opportunity he might have for me and asked if I would send him my materials. I didn’t think much of it, especially only being eighteen years old at the time, I was certain that I wouldn’t be a strong contender... 

[Find out what happens next in Part 2]

In the mean time, here is track from Christian's fantastic new album, “Wonderful You Came By,” singing that great jazz standard: “They Can't Take That Away From Me.” Support this artist by purchasing a digital copy of his CD: 

Monday, December 28, 2015

“Reflections No. 2, Fading Light” Time-lapse Video!

Time-lapse Video - "Reflection No. 2, Fading Light."Artist Charles Wolf. 
Charles Wolf Studio © 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

I have finally finished editing this video together and am happy to present to you all the time-lapse of my new acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 in., abstracted landscape painting. I originally titled this work, “Sunlit Lake, ” but on further consideration changed it to “Fading Light.” I have been very inspired by both abstract and cityscape painters recently – particularly those using bold color palettes in primary hues. The concept of reflections for this series of paintings, mirrors my fascination with water and light, but more personally the contemplative mood of the season as the New Year is about to begin.

 When I am looking for new ideas I find that I gain great inspiration by looking at the works of other current artists, either in the communities that I am a part of on Google+ or on YouTube. Often I will see color combinations, themes, motifs, ideas and techniques that grip me, I will sometimes spend 10 minutes or more analyzing such paintings to observe every detail, and I feel suddenly and impulsively driven to try it myself!

As I have explored other artist’s works, I have been struck not only by the techniques employed but also by the variety of tools used to create these pieces. One artist that I recently watched a video of was using a very large scrapper (4-5 inches across) to quickly highlight her buildings in the background. Another was using a cooking spatula to fling paint upward across the canvas in a Jackson Pollock fashion (I technique that I will not be replicating in my living room).

Larger Image: "Reflection No. 2, Fading Light." Charles Wolf Studio © 2015.  

 I think what I love most about painting, and I sincerely mean this, is the possibility that each blank canvas holds in a metaphorical way. My favorite part is always the first mark that I make. While I usually have a general idea of the composition worked out in my head, the subtle expressions created by the brush that fall outside my attempts at control, and the creative process where I continually respond to what I am putting on the canvas are the best moments in act of painting. I often find that new ideas form in the moment, perhaps due to the interaction of two colors, or shape or line. I never like to plan everything out in advance, but the process of exploration that is surprising even to me at times, I think, forms the heart of what I truly love about painting!    

To be honest, my wife is a little mystified with my burst of creativity lately, and has asked me where we will be storing all these new works (not sure about that yet). In case you did not know, all my paintings can be purchased from the Official Impulsive Artistry Etsy Shop:

Etsy Shop Link 

You can also see all of my paintings at the Painting Gallery: 

Help me out to continue to create more works by purchasing one of my pieces, by subscribing to this blog, and sharing this post!

Thank you all for reading this article, I sincerely hope that you will enjoy this time-lapse painting video and feel inspired yourself to try something creative today!


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