Rick Wilkins and Ensemble Vivant:
A Little Background
by Catherine Wilson
A wonderful life-long musical collaboration began for me in January 1990. I had heard Rick Wilkins perform with the Boss Brass and with the Rick Wilkins Quartet and loved his playing as well as his arrangements. In late 1989 I mustered up the nerve to approach him about arranging for my classical based group Trio Vivant, which was comprised of piano, violin and cello. I played for Rick at his home, seguing from classical to ragtime and other jazz related styles, as well as a composition of my own. He heard the same array of diverse genres and styles on Trio Vivant’s debut CD Palm Court Pleasures. He loved the “musical artistry, energy and sound” as well as the “passionate, beautiful music-making” and said: “You have a new fan”. The first piece he arranged for the group was Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are, which aptly leads off this live tribute recording, but with an evolved octet arrangement for piano, violin, viola, cello, bass, flugelhorn, sax, and percussion.
I soon discovered that Rick’s musical background began with years of classical piano training. He arranged dozens of pieces for us spanning from Johann Sebastian Bach to Astor Piazzolla, George Gershwin to Georges Bizet, Leroy Anderson to Maurice Ravel, Scott Joplin to Manuel de Falla, Charlie Chaplin to Ernesto Lecuona. There are also the glorious traditional Christmas classics, with the list continuing. The idea for Rick’s three-movement composition Divertissement evolved. Each movement is a different musical genre, featuring some of the genres Ensemble Vivant has always performed. Divertissement concludes this live recording, which in the second and third movements includes Guido, Mike, and Brian. Rick is a master supreme! No matter the genre or style his writing is tasteful, imaginative, sparkling and simply put, just brilliant.
We would talk about our shared philosophy of the interconnectedness of the classical and jazz worlds and how the two are integral to each other and should not be treated as separate entities. This has been expressed by many great performers and composers over the years, including George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud, and many others. Nevertheless, the view of classical and jazz as being separate entities, especially in concert and on recording, still dominated in the late 1980s and well beyond.
Ensemble Vivant was a pioneer in the piano chamber music world championing a genre-diverse repertoire including Classical, Ragtime, The Great American Song Book, Latin and other jazz-related styles. The group now has an over thirty-year tradition steeped in this diverse range of styles and genres. Rick Wilkins recognized the uniqueness and importance of this from the outset and has been one of the group’s biggest supporters. Rick has been an integral force in Ensemble Vivant’s career, also acting as recording producer for many of the group’s earlier CDs. He frequently discovered repertoire for the group, and he would eagerly call to tell me about his new find. Most significantly, Rick and his wife Carolyn became my close friends. With that kind of rapport that was fueled by mutual respect and admiration, there was always the inspiration and desire to work together, and for all of us to get together socially.
As the core group expanded during the 1990s from a piano trio and became a quintet of piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass, the name Ensemble Vivant replaced the name Trio Vivant. At an Ensemble Vivant concert the combination of instruments vary depending on the instrumentation of the repertoire of whichever genre, so one might hear piano trio, piano and bass, full quintet of our core instrumentation, quartet of various instruments, solo piano and more. Greats from the jazz world often join Ensemble Vivant in concert and on recording, including Don Thompson, O.C., vibes; Dave Young, O.C., bass; Guido Basso, C.M. flugelhorn; Kevin Turcotte, trumpet; Mike Murley, sax; Brian Barlow, percussion; Juan Carlos Medrano and Luisito Orbegoso, Latin percussion; and others.
Ensemble Vivant’s Tribute to Rick Wilkins was a true labour of love. It warmed our hearts seeing the full house there to honour Rick. The core Ensemble Vivant was joined by jazz greats Guido Basso, Brian Barlow and Mike Murley. This concert/live recording gives a glimpse into the range of styles and genres that Rick wrote for Ensemble Vivant, but truth be known, we could give at least four concerts each with entirely different repertoire written/arranged for Ensemble Vivant by Rick. His output of wonderful music brilliantly arranged for piano solo and various piano chamber combinations is significant. I intend to make these charts available so that other pianists and piano chamber groups will enjoy performing this music and so that new audiences the world over well into the future will be enriched by hearing these arrangements and compositions performed live.
Although Rick will remain mostly known for his incomparable contribution in the jazz world, we hope that this live recording of Ensemble Vivant’s Tribute to Rick Wilkins concert will help bring awareness to the wealth of repertoire that he wrote and arranged for Ensemble Vivant. This is a tribute to a great man, a great artist, and a great friend. Rick is an honorary board member of the registered not-for-profit charity Euterpe: Music for Health Canada, named after the Greek Muse of Music. Rick’s advocacy of Euterpe has deep roots as he speaks about how music inspired him in his youth and how it became his life.
For this concert/live recording, Catherine Wilson has chosen to play the Bosendorfer Vienna 280 Concert Grand Piano that was generously sponsored by Yamaha Canada Music Ltd. and Robert Lowrey Piano Experts.
Since 1990, Rick has enjoyed a rich musical collaboration with pianist extraordinaire Catherine Wilson and her wonderful group Ensemble Vivant.
Pianist/Artistic Director of Ensemble Vivant
Founder/Artistic Director of Euterpe: Music for Health Canada
Of Ensemble Vivant, Rick commented: “This is the highest-level chamber music-making. No matter the genre, there is magic in Catherine Wilson and Ensemble Vivant's music-making."
Tribute to Rick Wilkins CD/DVD Pack
- All The Things You Are, Jerome Kern
- My One and Only, Astor Piazzolla
- I Never Know When, Leroy Anderson
- Fugue in g minor, J.S. Bach
- Milonga for Three, Astor Piazzolla
- Andalucia, Ernesto Lecuona
- Summer Skies, Leroy Anderson
- Serenata, Leroy Anderson
- Greensleeves, Traditional
- Chaplin Medley, Charles Chaplin
- Circa 1910, from “Divertissement”
- American Ballad, from “Divertissement”
- Ragtime, from “Divertissement”
Tracks 1-10 arranged by Rick Wilkins, C.M., for Ensemble Vivant
Tracks 11-13 composed for Ensemble Vivant by Rick Wilkins, C.M.
Catherine Wilson, Piano/Artistic Director
Corey Gemmell, violin
Norman Hathaway, violin
Sybil Shanahan, cello
Jim Vivian, bass
With Special Guests:
Guido Basso, trumpet/flugelhorn
Mike Murley, sax
Brian Barlow, drums/percussion
Ensemble Vivant… what you get is absolute magic… familiarity of old friends… yet their playing always retains a sense of gracious etiquette associated with the noble chamber ballroom… sincere and poised… great warmth and swing. (re Ensemble Vivant’s Live in Concert Tribute to Rick Wilkins CD)
Catherine Wilson’s Ragtime playing is second to none…virtuoso technique and beautiful touch with the right feel and grove combined with a rich musical imagination.
American Ragtime composer, pianist
The greatest selling point of the ensemble was the players’ masterful interpretative style. Whether playing a lyrical ballad, a spirited rag, or a sensuous tango, Ensemble Vivant captured the appropriate style instantly. The sense of ensemble was likewise impeccable, with entrances, articulations and dynamics mirrored precisely … an overwhelming success. The trio was equally at home with traditional classics and original compositions.
New Brunswick, Canada
Catherine Wilson is a magnificent and passionate concert pianist… a joy to listen to and lovely to watch. Her playing and that of her group Ensemble Vivant is among the finest anywhere… brilliant musicianship and artistry… warm, heartfelt, vibrant playing… a rare breed of stylistically diverse performers whose playing, no matter the style, is truly in the groove.
…Thanks again for a great performance and wonderful program…molti bravi to Ensemble Vivant… please have Ensemble Vivant return very soon!
de Blasiis CMS at the Hyde
Led by a remarkable pianist, Catherine Wilson, Ensemble Vivant boasts a collection of musicians whose abilities and qualifications are second to none… a diversity of beautifully played music and sound (with vibes… Don Thompson, O.C.) from Bach to Piazzolla to Widor… wonderful interpretations… highlight of the Kelowna Community Concert Association series. I had the pleasure of spending time with the group after the concert and they are a fun, humble and inspiring group of musicians… such tremendous mutual talent and respect within the ensemble… Merci Ensemble Vivant!
musician, composer for B.C. Arts