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The Checkout: Saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins on the Quest for an Overwhelming Sound

Dana Scruggs

Immanuel Wilkins’ climb to wider recognition has been rapid and unfaltering since arriving in New York City a little over five years ago. 

An alto saxophonist and composer, he joins us on The Checkout to talk about what got him here — to the forefront of a rising jazz generation, with an acclaimed debut on Blue Note Records and a 2021 LetterOne Rising Star Award

On this episode of My Music, Wilkins explains why his music sounds different from others, and unpacks his cauldron of influences — from Johann Sebastian Bach to the second Miles Davis Quintet. He also reflects on how his sound is rooted in his formative experience in the Black church in Philadelphia.

Wilkins’ fiery quintet features some of the baddest young jazz musicians on the scene: pianist Micah Thomas, bassist Daryl Johns and drummer Kweku Sumbry.  When the world opens up, they should be on any jazz fan’s bucket list to see in person. Until then, it’s worth touting their recent NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert (from Sear Sound in New York).

As you’ll witness both in this footage and in our episode, the band performs with dizzying dexterity and velocity. To hear Wilkins tell it, this comes from a having micro-intensity as he gets from one passage to the next. He wants his sound to be overwhelming.

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For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.