Interview: Talking Story With Pianist Loren Wilken


Loren Wilken works as a full-time jazz and classical pianist on the Big Island. He composes music in many styles ranging from children songs, pop, new age, and jazz to classical, orchestral, and choral music. Wilken has 4 songs in circulation with MUZAC and has had 2 tracks played on Oprah and Dateline. His tracks can also be found in various music libraries catalogs in the United States and Europe.

Wilken’s CD projects include a collection of 4 CDs of children’s songs used as educational tools for learning English as a second language, a jazz quintet album, and a jazz vocal Christmas album. He will soon be releasing a CD of inspirational instrumental music that accompanies a guided meditation featuring oboe, violin, classical guitar, harp, strings, French horn, and chorus in the background.

How did you get started with music?

I basically got started with music because there was a piano around the house and I just sort of made up tunes and played around with it. My parents gave me lessons from the organist at our church, and in some ways, I was lucky because he knew a little bit about theory, so he trained me how to read chords and how to read lead sheets, not jazz lead sheets, but pop songs.

One of the most exciting times as a teenager was being introduced to big band music because there was this local bar in L.A. where some of the well-known bands would rehearse and you watched them. That was my first experience seeing jazz performed live. My parents were really into the big band records, and they’d play those when I was growing up.

Who were some of the musicians that inspired you?

Chick Correa, Oscar Peterson, those kinds of piano players. I was into both fusion and straight-ahead jazz… a lot of fusion bands from the 1980’s.

You’re originally from California, right? What brought you to the Big Island?

I was playing in some original fusion bands in the Bay Area. I lived in Santa Cruz, California. I was a optometric assistant at the time, just doing music on the side, so I decided, to, well, go for it. I put together a demo, and hadn’t even sent out my package when some friends said there’s a Ritz Carlton Hotel opening up on the Big Island we’re going to try to get a gig there. So, I sent out my package and got a gig about a month later.

Tell me about your regular gig with young drummer Nick Wong at Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kona.

At the moment, it happens on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. He’s so talented, and soon to be fifteen. In some ways, I’m like a mentor to him for certain songs and ideas… just by introducing him to new songs. It’s a fun gig because we do a little bit of music for the ballroom dancers… sambas, West Coast swing. I’ve done a bit of ballroom dancing and know the good tempos, and the right type of songs to play.

Tell me about some of the bands you play with here.

Bill Noble (sax and flute player) is the main guy I work with. I was with the Bill Noble Trio. He’s extremely precise with his charts. He recently won a few Hoku awards. We had a fourteen-year gig with singer Betsy Curtis at the Prince Hotel… four to five nights per week.

What are some of the current projects you’re working on?

I have a new-age classical album I want to do, and some solo piano and fusion tunes I want to record. Unfortunately, I just follow where the money goes. I’ve worked with the classic rock band Lucky Tongue, providing cello and violin parts for them. I’m kind of a Jack of All Trades, and an arranger for pretty much all styles of music.

How can folks find out more about where you’re playing on the Big Island?

I’d suggest going to Gertrude’s Jazz Bar’s website and signing up for their email alerts. If they want to Facebook “friend” me, that’s probably one of the best ways to let people know about my gigs.

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