Worlds collide in faculty concert

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Professor Skip Wilkins will play alongside Rob Foster at this weekend’s faculty concert (Courtesy of Skip Wilkins).

Morgan Sturm

Professor of music Skip Wilkins will embrace a new musical journey on Saturday with long-time friend and musician Rob Foster in a faculty concert at the Williams Center for the Arts. Foster is also a professor of music and has been teaching at Augusta University in Augusta, Ga. for over 20 years.

According to Wilkins, the two became friends immediately when they met while overlapping at the University of Northern Colorado. The two played free jazz in Wilkins’s basement once a week, which is where their musical relationship began, said Wilkins.

While their friendship and musical relationship certainly developed around playing jazz, Foster soon became interested in learning to play the Shakuhachi, a Japanese flute. According to Foster, after attending a show presented by the International Flute Society and witnessing Riley Lee play the Shakuhachi, he became fascinated with the instrument.

“I thought it was just an amazing sound,” Foster said in a phone interview. “It was just so expressive and had such a warm, organic sort of tone. It just really struck me, so I bought cassettes of [Lee] playing.”

Rob Foster, a professor at Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia (Courtesy of Skip Wilkins).

While Foster admitted that at first he struggled with learning to play and set the instrument aside for some time, he revisited the instrument around 2004. He then attended several Shakuhachi instructional camps, which he described as “intensive classes and lessons with the world’s top Shakuhachi players.” Later, Foster created the group Utake.

While Foster has certainly maintained his jazz skill set – he plays all saxophones, clarinets and flutes – the Shakuhachi is what he will be performing in Saturday’s faculty concert. Wilkins, a jazz pianist, will perform alongside Foster and the Shakuhachi to create a meditative and calm performance.

“I normally play very different types of jazz,” Wilkins said. “I play not only my own music, but I also play a lot of the classic straight-ahead traditions from the last century… And I’ve done a lot of different things in my career, but this is going to be unique at least for my experience here.”

In October of 2015, the duo performed a similar show together in Augusta with Utake. This was the first show Foster and Wilkins did together, and Saturday’s performance will mark their second. According to Wilkins, the gig in Georgia fostered conversation between the two about future performances.

The show will feature new pieces from the musicians and according to Wilkins, will sound very different from a typical jazz concert. Wilkins and Foster will be accompanied onstage by a bass player and drummer from New York City, one of which Wilkins played with formerly. Wilkins and the visiting bass player were in a trio together for over 20 years and have produced several albums together. The drummer, on the other hand, Wilkins has never met.

“A typical jazz drum set gig is smashing and crashing and banging and that isn’t going to work, so he’s going to probably play some very delicate percussion roles,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins and Foster will rehearse on Friday and some on Saturday, but the show in its essence embraces improvisation. While Wilkins admits he is no expert in Eastern music, he was ready for the challenge and aims to create a harmonious performance.

“With jazz music, if the spirit of risk isn’t being embraced, there’s something missing,” Wilkins said.

Not only will the duo perform on Saturday night, but Wilkins’ three classes in the music department and some Asian studies classes will spend time conversing with Foster and Wilkins about their music. Wilkins and Foster will also perform at the Dear Head Inn on Sunday.

The show will begin at 8 p.m Saturday night at the Williams Center for the Arts.