Skip Wilkins is an American jazz pianist who splits his time between Eastern Pennsylvania and Central Europe. While in the U.S. he makes his home in the town of Delaware Water Gap, where he has recently joined the scene to be near the great jazz musicians living there. When in Europe, he is based in Prague, and tours regularly throughout the Czech Republic, Slovak Republic and Germany. A prolific composer, Skip has released ten CDs, with the eleventh slated for release in early 2013.
Skip has been touring in Central Europe frequently since 2007. He lived in Prague continuously for fifteen months during a sabbatical from his teaching position at Lafayette College between June of 2011 and August of 2012. In addition to his active concert and recording schedule, he taught at major summer workshops and gave additional workshops and masterclasses in a variety of conservatories, music schools and other venues. Skip maintains a special relationship with the Janacek Academy of Musical Arts in Brno, where he is well known to the students and faculty from his numerous workshops. While in Prague, he directed the Skip Wilkins Singers, a twenty-voice choral ensemble that performed his arrangements and compositions. He recorded three CDs with various groups, headlined at major festivals, performed on live television, gave concert performances that were recorded for future radio broadcasts, and in general, participated enthusiastically in Czech cultural life. He continues with his Czech language studies.
Born and raised in eastern Massachusetts, Skip grew up in a musical home and began listening to jazz at a very early age. His father played drums locally, so Skip was able to interact with professional musicians as a small child. He first found his way to the stage in kindergarten and has not left the stage since. In many ways his earliest experiences have proved the most enduring. He learned to love singing and listening to subtle harmonies before entering school, taking particular delight in the Great American songbook repertoire of such composers as Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin and others of the first half of the twentieth century. Also drawn to syncopated rhythms and polyrhythms of jazz recordings that he heard at home, it is readily apparent that the seeds of his future style were already planted in pre-school. Many years later, a seasoned professional pianist, Skip is noted for his lyricism, fascination with harmonic color, boundless rhythmic energy, and interest in exploring songs from the Great American Songbook.
Skip has been fortunate to play with luminaries and un-sung local players wherever he has lived. As he was coming up in Boston, he worked with drummers Joe Hunt and Bob Moses and with saxophonists Jimmy Mosher and John LaPorta. In Denver, where he established his style, Skip was a well-known figure regionally, and often performed with marquee players when they visited the area. These included saxophonist Plas Johnson, vocalists Mark Murphy and Darmon Meader, trumpeter Conte Candoli, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Peter Erskine. He also made his first recording, Two Much Fun!, on Eaglear Records, as co-leader with flutist Jill Allen. While in the Rocky Mountain region, he toured the West with various groups and performed regularly at all the established jazz clubs, including the famous El Chapultepec in Denver. He also performed countless times at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where he taught during his eight years in Colorado.
Relocated to eastern Pennsylvania in 1995, Skip resumed his performing career on the east coast with the Wilkins & Allen Quartet. In 2001 on Cathexis Records, Skip and Jill Allen released Petty Theft, which featured guest performances by Grammy-nominated saxophonist David Liebman. He also continued to perform in concert with all-stars, including saxophonists David Sánchez, Stanley Turrentine and Bobby Watson, trumpeter Clark Terry, trombonist Al Grey, and drummer T.S. Monk. Of course, right in his backyard Skip periodically has performed often with such Philadelphia legends Mickey Roker, Larry McKenna and John Swana, among many others. Skip has played all of the great regional jazz venues, including Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus and Chris’s Jazz Café, both in Philadelphia, and Delaware Water Gap’s Deer Head Inn.
In 2005, Skip formed a new working ensemble, Skip Wilkins Quintet. Together the group recorded eighteen of his original compositions, for release on two CDs. The first, Skip Wilkins Quintet: Volume I, was released in September of 2006 on Dreambox Media (DMJ-1101).
They followed up, in April 2007, with the release is Volume II on Dreambox Media (DMJ-1104). Group members include bassist Tony Marino and drummer Gary Rissmiller, with whom he has been performing and touring for fifteen years; guitarist Tom Kozic, with whom he has given concerts for twelve years; and relative newcomer tenor saxophonist Paul Kendall.
Also in 2007, Dreambox Media released Skip Wilkins Solo--Live at Lafayette (DMJ-1109) in August. Skip had been thinking about recording some solo piano music. While considering repertoire, he came across an archival live concert recording from a performance he gave at Lafayette College on September 16, 2000. There was no need to record right away—this one was already in the can! The recording features some of Skip's compositions and also pieces by Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, George Gershwin and Frederic Chopin. As ever, his playing ranges from lyrical to edgy, often turning unexpectedly. Thus his music is heard worldwide on recording.
Skip’s next Dreambox Media project, The Paint-Peeler (DMJ-1117), was released in August 2008, and featured the Skip Wilkins Quintet. For this outing, the band returned to the Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College for another live-remote recording. Engineer Jim McGee captured a new set of pieces written expressly for members of the ensemble. Whereas Volume I and Volume II featured pieces that were adapted for the group, Skip wrote all the music on The Paint-Peeler for Paul Kendall, Tom Kozic, Tony Marino and Gary Rissmiller—and Skip Wilkins. It is an especially edgy recording. While Skip didn’t discard his lyrical voice, numerous pieces emphasized the rumbling musical interaction Skip has with Marino and Rissmiller, with great solos from every member of the ensemble. John Vanore’s mixing and mastering touch is unmistakable, as is Kathy Ridl’s production design.
In August 2009, Skip recorded Frydlant Nights with the Rostislav Fras – Skip Wilkins Quintet. Released on CD in 2010 on the Czech Radio Prague label (CR0473-2), the quintet features Wilkins with Americans Neil Wetzel (alto saxophone) and Gary Rissmiller (drums), with Czech musicians Fras (tenor saxophone) and Josef Feco (bass). Wilkins’s compositions are featured prominently, ranging from edgy to lyrical. The quintet tours annually in the Czech Republic and had their first US tour together in February 2010, in conjunction with the release of Frydlant Nights. Just in 2010 alone, the group toured Europe three times. They headlined at major festivals in Prerov and Vsetin and gave a live radio broadcast performance from Prague’s famous Jazz Dock, among many other performances.
Performing as a soloist and as part of various groups, Skip’s European tours have taken place in the Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Germany and Italy. Some noteworthy Czech performances have included the Karel Velebny Summer Jazz Workshop in Frydlant; as soloist with the Big Band Ceskeho Rozhlasu (Czech Radio) at the International Prazske Jaro (Prague Spring) Music Festival; Janackuv Maj festival in Ostrava; Brno Jazz Festival; Hello Jazz Weekend in Uherske Hradiste and Kyjov; Prague jazz clubs, including Agartha Jazz Centrum, Jazz Dock, U Maleho Glena, Reduta and U Stare Pani; Czech Republic concert venues throughout the country, including in Frydlant, Prerov, Vsetin, Tisnov, Lomnice u Tisnova, Duba, Uherske Hradiste, Kyjov, Plzen, Cesky Krumlov, Zidlochovice, Pardubice, Pelhrimov, Frantiskovy Lazne, Liberec, Brno, Trinec and Ostrava; and national broadcasts on Czech television and radio. Skip performs on and is interviewed prominently in two Czech Television documentaries filmed in Frydlant. He is otherwise frequently interviewed on television and radio, and gave live performances on both “Dobre Rano” and “Zive” on Czech national television during his year-plus of residency.
In Germany, Skip headlines annually at Schlot in Berlin, as well as at other Berlin venues. He has also played in Bavaria, including Birdland Neuborg, Lindau Jazz Club (on the Bodensee) and the Burgthann Jazz Festival. In the Slovak Republic, he has performed in Zilina and at the Kursalon in Piest’any.
Skip currently has three main groups in the Czech Republic, but also works often with various other musicians far and wide. Recently he has been performing and touring regularly with Super Trio – WUH, whose members include the great Czech rhythm section of bassist Franta Uhlir and drummer Jaromir Helesic. The group has played throughout the Czech Republic and in Bavaria. Another new group formed in 2012, Skip Wilkins Quartet, featuring Libor Smoldas, recorded new works that Skip composed during his year of residency. Rounding out the group are some of the leading lights on the emerging jazz scene in Prague: guitarist Libor Smoldas, bassist Tomas Baros and drummer Tomas Hobzek. Saxophonist Rost’a Fras and vocalist Maruska Puttnerova also made memorable guest appearances on the recording. Finally, the Rostislav Fras – Skip Wilkins Quintet continues to tour in Europe. Recently the members of the quintet celebrated their fifth anniversary tour together in Prague and Frydlant. Skip was also quite active performing with Rost’a during his year of residency.
Since 2007, Skip has been especially active as a vocal jazz director and arranger in the Czech Republic, which has long and deep choral traditions. He directs the Jazz Singers in two summer workshops there, including at the Summer Choral Workshop in Lomnice u Tisnova , and at the Karel Velebny Summer Jazz Workshop in Frydlant . During his year of residency in Prague, he founded and directed the Skip Wilkins Singers, for whom he also played piano and wrote arrangements. The group gave concerts with trio accompaniment in Prague and elsewhere. Years earlier he toured Italy with Emmaus Chamber Harmony. During his eight-year association with the Jazz Studies Program at the University of Northern Colorado, Skip wrote and published vocal jazz arrangements through UNC Jazz Press. He continues to write new arrangements for his annual summer workshops.
In the United States, Skip’s performances include Bethlehem, PA's Musikfest; NYC’s Tavern on the Green and Cleopatra’s Needle; The Wichita Jazz Festival, where the Wilkins & Allen Quartet served as Artists-in-Residence; and The Blue Room at the Kansas City Jazz Museum. Skip also gave performances at the University of North Texas, Williams College, and the Rochester Institute of Technology, and at other venues in Arizona, Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Nearer to his home, Skip has performed often at Muhlenberg College, Moravian College and at Lafayette College, where he is Associate Professor of Music.
Skip's recordings and performances have always received critical acclaim. (See Reviews.) In 2001 he received a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He was given the award for excellence in jazz composition. Many of the compositions for which he was recognized were included on Petty Theft.
Skip also has numerous other associations, including The Skip Wilkins Trio – a New York Trio – with Scott Lee (bass) and Jeff Hirshfield (drums). The trio released two CDs on Dreambox Media in 2011:
I Concentrate on You, a set of standards, including some well-known pieces and some less often played gems; and After, a set of new compositions by Skip Wilkins, including some of the most varied writing he had issued to date. The Trio has now become a Quartet with the current SteepleChase LookOut CD release, Father & Son. Joining the Trio is Skip’s son Daniel Wilkins, a tenor saxophonist who has toured extensively with his father in Europe and who is performing often in New York City, while completing his studies at Manhattan School of Music. For this Quartet, Skip wrote a special set of pieces that the group captured on Father & Son. Additionally, Skip’s daughter Emily, a wonderful vocalist, joins the Wilkins Family for regular performances. Emily also performs on tour with her father in Europe and together they co-direct a jazz choir at the annual Summer Choral Workshop in Lomnice u Tisnova.
Skip is a charter member of the Tony Gairo-Gary Rissmiller Jazz Orchestra and is prominently featured on the Orchestra’s 2006 release, Treacherous, on Seabreeze Jazz Records. He has also performed and recorded with The Trio, an ensemble featuring bassist Roy Cumming and drummer Glenn Davis. For fourteen years, Skip gave a monthly salon performance at Blue Orchid Inn in nearby Mertztown, Pennsylvania. For most performances, he invited a guest to perform with him, but occasionally performed solo. Blue Orchid Inn is an exceptional, intimate spot to see and hear jazz, with exquisite food and a loyal clientele that returns for the experience each month. The series continues now, periodically.
Skip studied jazz composition and arranging with Herb Pomeroy at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and is a former faculty member at Berklee. He also studied and taught under Gene Aitken at the University of Northern Colorado.
Skip has been teaching at various levels for more than twenty-five years, including college and university classroom work, high school ensemble directing, artist-in-residence engagements, summer workshops, master classes and clinics, and one-on-one applied instruction, including activities in the US, Canada, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. He has worked with all levels of learners, from young children through post-doctoral fellows.
Since 2007, Skip has been especially active in the Czech Republic, presenting jazz composition and jazz piano clinics, and directing the Jazz Singers annually at both the Karel Velebny Summer Jazz Workshop in Frydlant, and the Summer Choral Workshop in Lomnice u Tisnova. He composes and arranges new works for the workshops each year. He has presented clinics at the Jaroslav Jezek Konservatory in Prague, at the Janacek Academy of Musical Arts in Brno, and at music schools and other venues in Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Kyjov, and Kladno. In other parts of Europe, he has given workshops in Berlin, Germany and Zilina, Slovak Republic.
From 1987-1995, while Skip performed throughout the Rocky Mountain West, he taught jazz theory and improvisation and later Common Practice Period harmony and musicianship at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. He initially headed west from his native New England to pursue the master of music degree in music theory and composition, expecting to be there two years. Two years turned into eight after he was hired by the university. UNC is home to a critically acclaimed jazz studies program. While teaching in the program, Skip developed a teaching style that is based on the philosophy of comprehensive musicianship. Then as now, whether teaching 18th century-style part-writing and solfeggio or altered dominant seventh chords, Skip integrates learning strategies. His theory and improvisation courses feature written theory, keyboard skill development, solfeggio and aural training exercises.
In 1995, Skip decided to head back East and work on his performing career close to the large metropolitan jazz centers of New York and Philadelphia. He spent the first few years engaged in developing his career and planting seeds for future opportunities, performing constantly and touring with a variety of ensembles. Shortly thereafter, the local colleges invited him to work part-time. For about five years, Skip taught at Muhlenberg College in Allentown and Moravian College in Bethlehem. After a brief interruption, he continued his long association with Moravian. Skip is Associate Professor of Music Lafayette College in Easton, PA. He teaches music theory at all levels, plus courses in jazz history and improvisation.