“His Story” from the album White Rocket
For Jacob Wick, there’s something calming about the big, open spaces of the Midwest. He’d drive home to his native Chicago during college breaks and revel in the wide skies and flat expanses of Ohio cornfields and beyond.
“I wouldn’t call it spiritual,” Wick says. “It’s the internal quiet that I like.”
You can hear internal quiet in a new self-titled album by Wick’s band, White Rocket. The trio includes piano, drums, and trumpet, but no bass, which is odd. A jazz combo without a bass is like a bar without beer.
The absence of bass, Wick says, allows “the music to breathe.” A bass fills in the cracks, so to speak, between the notes and chords with its low, steady rhythm and vibration. Without it, the other instruments, particularly Wick’s trumpet, have a chance to engage the others in a more intimate fashion.
“The openness gives us more room to move around in,” Wick says, “The instrumentation makes things more fun, interesting, and terrifying.”
“Terrifying,” because there’s no faking it on White Rocket (Diatribe) — everything’s exposed. There’s little in the way of melody; there are no lyrics with which to tell a story. The music is what used to be called avant-garde, a vivid tapestry of mood, gesture, and emotion. Or, as Wick says, “shifting textures.”
“When I wrote ‘Recent Events’ I was in Amsterdam and going through a bad time,” Wick says of a dark track on the new album. “I try to create a memorable mood. I never write to tell a story.”
Wick’s own story includes not making a big deal of playing his chosen instrument. The trumpet is a harsh mistress, requiring diligence, patience, and determination. Even jazz masters like Dizzy Gillespie said in the battle for dominance, he’d win some days. But on others, he didn’t.
To make things worse, Wick went to college at SUNY Purchase with an embouchure badly in need of repair. He had braces in high school, and once they were removed, he had to learn how to position his lips on the mouthpiece all over again. Fortunately, he had an awesome teacher.
That teacher was Jon Faddis. He’s not well known, but those who do know him have good reason to believe he’s the best trumpet technician out there. Even Gillespie said so. At his peak, Faddis seemed to defy the fundamental laws of physics, with blazing speed and a range that only dogs can hear.
So Wick was lucky. Faddis quickly put him on a regimen of “absurdly simple exercises,” Wick says, that are too technical to go into here. Needless to say, they worked. In nine months, Wick was back in shape and then some.
“It was astounding,” Wick says. “Soon I was better than I had ever been.”
But it remains a harsh mistress. The trumpet requires constant attention. Her demands are absolute. She’s eager to punish if you falter. You almost need to be a saint. Well, at least have a spiritual approach if you want to last.
Which inspires me to ask the Brooklyn resident if that explains the open, meditative, and perhaps spiritual feeling of his music. I ask if that’s why he gets along without a bass. Wick says, yes, but it’s indirect cause and effect. Mostly, it all goes back to his Midwestern roots — that love of big sky.
“I love the nothingness,” he says. “I love the quieting nature.”
White Rocket’s concert and preceding workshop (on Indian rhythmic cycles, writing, and improvisation) are co-presented by the New Music Collective and the College of Charleston Jazz Department.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.