Mike Wofford: It's Personal


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Pianist Mike Wofford doesn't waste notes. Each one has purpose, as if his improvisations were worked out in advance. Of course, that's not the case. But his taste and beautiful choices say a great deal about his craftsmanship and the many moods he's able to create with engaging chord voicings. Wofford is a pianists you want to play all of your favorite songs, because you know he will take them to new, exciting places. 

Wofford's remarkable talents can be heard on his new CD It's Personal (Capri). Here, Wofford not only shows he can pick great standards but also give them fresh perspective and drama. He covers Johnny Carisi's Springsville, Jackie McLean's Little Melonae and Gigi Gryce's Nica's Tempo. And then there's Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse's Once in a Lifetime—followed by David Byrne and Brian Eno's song of the same name recorded by the Talking Heads in 1980.

What's more, Wofford's originals are just as exciting as his approach on standards. Songs like his Cole Porter and Spin are daring works that show off his songcraft and flying-hands technique. Wofford interpretations have a way of scooping you up like a runaway tumbleweed. You're instantly part of what's happening with Wofford and completely engaged.

When you read Wofford's biography at his site, it all makes sense. Born in Texas, Wofford grew up in San Diego. He started studying piano at age seven, and at 19 he moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, catching the end of the West Coast jazz scene. His first gigs were with the Lighthouse All-Stars and the bands of Teddy Edwards, Art Pepper, Red Norvo, Chet Baker, Bud Shank, Zoot Sims, Shorty Rogers and Maynard Ferguson. He also was singer June Christy's accompanist for a time.

And then there were recordings with Mel Tormé, Gary Burton and Joe Pass as well as sessions under his own name for Epic and Discovery. By the late '60s, Wofford worked as a session player in Los Angeles on recording dates, films and TV. He was staff pianist on The Bill Cosby Show and worked with Oliver Nelson at Universal Pictures. He also became an arranger at Capitol Records as well as writing for such artists as Sergio Mendes and the Mike Barone Big Band. 

If that wasn't enough, Wofford worked extensively with drummer Shelly Manne from 1967 to 1982. He also was music director for Sarah Vaughan and played on tours wtih Harry “Sweets" Edison, Eddie “Lockjaw" Davis, Zoot Sims, and the Benny Carter Orchestra. And he toured with the Benny Carter Quartet.

At any rate, you get the picture. For me, this is the piano album to beat this year.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Mike Wofford's It's Personal (Capri) here.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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