Your basic acoustic piano is a bunch of wires strung at varying degrees of tension across an iron frame sandwiched inside of a wooden box for resonation. One controls said machine via 88 keys laid out in a graduating series of octaves, tidy and machine-like. You press a key, white or black, and a hammer smacks one of the tension wires. Uniform. But, no two people will sound alike when they play the exact same notes on the exact same piano. Consider Art Tatum, vs McCoy Tyner, vs Fats Domino. Three pianists, one instrument, yet three individual sounds.
It took a friend with a baby grand piano at the center of his living room to break it down for me one night. The force with which one hits (or caresses) a key makes a huge difference. Bill Evans, for example, seemed able to coax a note out of the 88. Fats Waller pounded on a keyboard; Oscar Peterson was somewhere in between. And then, my friend said, there’s the issue of voicing. Chords are all built on the same tones, he explained, but how an individual arranges (or voices) those tones is huge in defining a pianist’s personal sound. This is where Mike Wofford comes in: how he voices each chord is as delicate as a prayer.
Wofford, from Texas, grew up in San Diego. His is an astonishing background that includes stints with the Jackson Five, John Lennon, Donna Summer, and more. But his gig for the past many years has been straight-ahead jazz, and as one of the leading forces of that music on the West Coast, he’s recorded or been staged with the best.
Now approaching 80, Wofford was outed as one of this town’s best kept secrets when the San Diego Music Awards laid a Lifetime Achievement Award on him in 2012.
Bassist Dean Hulett and drummer Richard Sellers will accompany trumpeter Curtis Taylor and Wofford in this performance.