Colorado-based jazz vocalist Wil Alston may have released his debut album, Introducing Wil Alston, at an older age than many new artists, but with that comes a more seasoned and powerful singer. For jazz and soul music, the older you are, the more depth there is in the voice through years of experience and practice.
Q: What was your introduction to music? How old were you, and how did it affect you?
A: My first exposure to music was Gospel music in North Carolina. My uncle George Alston was a Gospel singer that traveled up and down the East Coast and would visit and perform at the house when in town. I was only 7 or 8 years old but remember thinking music and singing was this thing that pulled people together. I also remember how cool my uncle was considered because he was a singer.
Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?
A: Didn’t really grow up in a musical environment per se. My family were farmers until we moved to Washington, D.C. as part of the northern migration in the ’60s and then was working class in D.C. But I certainly was exposed to more Gospel music through church in D.C., and then R&B and jazz music that was in and all around the city.
Q: What styles of music had the greatest impact on you creatively?
A: That’s a tough question as it wasn’t just one style. My parents listened to a lot of Gospel music like James Cleveland, Andre Crouch, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and the Jackson Southernaires, but my older siblings played a lot of the Motown artists and the O’Jays, Blue Magic, and James Brown. But as I hit my teen years, I became taken with a style of music unique to D.C. called Go-Go music. The architect was of course Chuck Brown but included groups like Rare Essence, Trouble Funk, and Experience Unlimited. When I hit college got exposed to jazz and the likes of Lou Rawls, Nat King Cole, and Nancy Wilson. From phrasing and lyric interpretation to performing and storytelling, I’m hoping a little of the DNA from all of those artists can be found in my music.
Q: In terms of musical style, how would you categorize yourself?
A: I absolutely call myself a jazz singer but I know I sometimes blur the line between jazz, soul music, and Gospel. Can’t help it; I am who I am.
Q: What was the first song you ever wrote?
A: The first song I ever wrote was just five years ago when my wife was diagnosed with leukemia. It’s called “One Cry.” It was my statement to cancer that you’ll only slow us down, you won’t stop us; you’ll only get one cry out of me and then we are going on with life.
Q: What songs on your album are most personal to you and why?
A: Another tough question because all the tunes on the album have their own unique back story. But if I had to call out a couple it would be “Sunshine” and “Five Points.” “Sunshine” is special because it’s about my wife Roz and who she is after beating cancer, and it was written for me with my baby brother Hosea Alston – an awesome songwriter back home in D.C. So it was a family thing. “Five Points” is special because it gives commentary to the demographic change taking place in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Denver and subtly points to the loss of culture occurring there and the gentrification issue that’s happening in neighborhoods like Five Points all around the country.
Q: How have you evolved creatively?
A: As I’m a late bloomer in the pursuit of my musical career, I’m just starting to try and figure it all out; but focusing now on becoming a better songwriter and on how best to get my music out in today’s hi-tech environment.