In March 1990, trumpet and flugelhorn player Kenny Wheeler joined Sundial, a trio composed of guitarist Peter O’Mara, bassist Wayne Darling, and drummer Bill Elgart, to record their Kenny Wheeler – Peter O’Mara – Wayne Darling – Bill Elgart (1991) album for Koala Records. The CD features four original compositions from O’Mara, a pair from Wheeler, and one apiece from Darling and Elgart. Sydney-born Peter O’Mara recently discussed how the four veteran jazzmen, representing three nationalities–Darling and Elgart from America and Wheeler from Canada, came together to make their eponymous CD.“Old Ballad,” a Kenny Wheeler composition performed by Peter O’Mara, Wayne Darling, Bill Elgart, and Wheeler has recently been uploaded to YouTube:
Q: How did the four of you meet?
A: We had a trio back in the 80’s, Bill, Wayne, and I [Sundial] and came to a point where we thought it would be a good idea to invite a guest musician, someone who fitted with our musical concept and the direction our music was moving in. We also wanted someone well known, to benefit musically as well as raise our profile and get more gigs. I wrote Wheeler and he replied favorably.
The First Rehearsal
Q: Where was your first performance?
A: We set up a tour, Wayne handling gigs in Austria and me in Germany. The first show with Kenny was in Münster at a museum which hosts an annual series of musical events that is still going on. I remember Kenny flying in beforehand as we picked him up at the airport in Düsseldorf. At the first rehearsal he pulled out a tune called “Everybody’s Song But My Own.” This was the first time I heard it since in those days we couldn’t share music via email, not audio files anyway. Fortunately, we all had a lot of experience reading music.
Q: Was this a new tune?
A: Well, like for “Old Ballad,” the concept was for Wheeler to come up with some of the tunes and the band to come up with some of them. In fact, Kenny didn’t want to play just his own tunes as he felt he was being taken advantage of in such scenarios.
I have a feeling that “Everybody’s Song But My Own” was very fresh when he brought it to that initial session. And as it is probably his most famous composition, it was a real honor to be one of the first bands to play it as it really is a wonderful tune.
Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own” is here:
Recording the Album
Q: What do you recall about the recording of Kenny Wheeler – Peter O’Mara – Wayne Darling – Bill Elgart?
A: We booked a very nice studio near Nürnberg in the middle of the first tour with Carlo Mombelli but there was an issue with the engineer and, in the end, a substitute studio had to be found at a later date. The replacement studio was small and cramped, and Kenny did not like it. However, the advantage was that we had played together for three tours by that point and had definitely played the tunes live quite a bit before recording them.
Q: I’m curious about the electronic sounds on the seventh track on the album, a composition by you entitled “Tik – Takn.” Did you use a keyboardist or synthesizer player for this?
A: No, it was my first experience using a sequencer with an Atari computer. It’s the only track on the album to use it, kind of like a backing track. It was an interesting process and gave an extra dimension to the piece. But it couldn’t be replicated live as in those days you had to haul around a lot of equipment including a computer, a MIDI keyboard, etc. Not like now when a small laptop can carry everything!
Q: Which of your four compositions is your favorite?
A: “Sun King” is a favorite. I wrote it with Kenny in mind. I also like “The Beauty and the Past,” which I did in 1986, shortly before playing with Kenny. It fits his style and he played it so beautifully.
Q: “Terrible Ooze” is an interesting title for a song…
A: Kenny’s comment was that is sounded like “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” by Charles Mingus. I miss him very much. He always played great, 100%. We as a band made some great music with him.
Q: Do you remember cutting “Under the Gun with Peanuts,” Bill Elgart’s composition?
A: I believe he wrote that back in the 1960s in his Boston days, when he was living in an apartment there. One day when he was eating peanuts, the neighbors were banging on the walls so loud that it sounded like a gun being shot …
For me playing Bill’s music was a new world as I hadn’t played any free jazz music before. There was no improvisational framework other than playing faster or slower at times, something we worked out later. The rest was open. It was a challenge as a guitarist to learn these notes, especially since Bill not being a guitarist or pianist meant he wrote a very rhythmic melody. Kenny was more familiar with free jazz as a result of his time in Europe in the 60s and 70s.
“Nobody played like Kenny”
Q: What was it like working with Kenny Wheeler?
A: He was a very quiet guy, never said too much. But because we went on three tours together, usually in two cars, I got a chance to know him a little more. We usually rode together. He often played cassettes in the car that he had brought, like Clifford Brown, big band stuff from Dave Holland, and some other, mostly older music.
Many years later, we met backstage in Sydney at a club called The Basement. He was playing with Australian pianist Mark Issacs. Wheeler commented, “That’s a nice CD we did.” Knowing how many albums he made with various musicians, this was something I’ll never forget.
Q: Any final words to share?
Kenny is legendary. Nobody played like Kenny. He invented a style of playing that didn’t exist before him.
“The Wheel,” a tribute to Kenny Wheeler by the Munich Jazz Orchestra at the Bavarian State Radio concert hall in 1998 written and arranged by Peter O’Mara features soloists Franz Weyrer on Flugelhorn, Johannes Enders on tenor sax, and O’Mara on guitar:
More From the Musicians
Bill Elgart and Peter O’Mara have made at least seven full length albums together as well as appearing on two compilations. Albums include Sun Dial (1985), Illiad (1986), O’Mara-Darling-Elgart (1988), Abstractions (1989), Happy Sad (1990), Kenny Wheeler – Peter O’Mara – Wayne Darling – Bill Elgart (1990), Ten Tributes (1995), and compilations That’s Core Jazz, Volume 1 (1989) and Abstractions Retrospective 86 To 92 (2011). Wayne Darling appeared on the first three albums, as well.An audio file for composer-bassist Carlo Mombelli’s “Remember Lucia,” with Charlie Mariano on alto saxophone, Peter O’Mara on guitar, and Bill Elgart on drums is on SoundCloud. This Mombelli piece first appeared on Happy Sad and most recently on Abstractions Retrospective 86 To 92, which is currently available in CD and as a digital download.
Listen to “Remember Lucia” featuring Carlo Mombelli, Charlie Mariano, Peter O’Mara, and Bill Elgart here:
Two years before recording Kenny Wheeler – Peter O’Mara – Wayne Darling – Bill Elgart, Elgart and Wheeler joined bassist Dave Holland, sax and flute player Stan Sulzmann, and pianist John Taylor to make Flutter By, Butterfly, an album available in CD and digital formats. A special reissue bundling a high-quality vinyl LP with an MP3 was released in August 2014.
Bill Elgart also recorded Tales with Stefano Battaglia, Paolino Dalla Porta, and Kenny Wheeler in 1993, an album currently available in CD and digital formats from major music retailers in most markets.
In 1995, Claudio Fasoli released Ten Tributes, an album featuring Fasoli on tenor and soprano saxophones, Henri Texier on acoustic bass, Bill Elgart on drums, Mick Goodrick on electric guitar, and Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn.
The full album is currently available on YouTube:
Bassist Wayne Darling, currently a professor emeritus for double bass at the University School of Music in Graz, Austria, has made over sixty albums in his distinguished career. Among those albums are his The Art Of Bass, Vol. 1 (2002) featuring Arni Egilsson, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and Darling on bass, Fritz Pauer on piano, and Billy Elgart on drums.
Wayne Darling’s “Speak Low,” now available as a digital download, is also online:
Besides working as an accomplished composer-musician, Peter O’Mara is an educator who has taught in Austria and Germany. He also has written several acclaimed books on learning jazz guitar and funk/fusion guitar.
As 2014 closes, Peter O’Mara has just returned home after a successful tour.
Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things,” performed live by Lorenz Heigenhuber, Xaver Hellmeier, and O’Mara at the Rausch & Toechter Club in München, Germany on 17 October 2014 is on YouTube:
The recently concluded tour also featured Norma Winstone, a vocalist who sang with Kenny Wheeler for more than 40 years. Peter O’Mara commented:
Kenny was very much on the mind of the musicians. In fact, his “Everybody’s Song But My Own” was played at each stop.
“Everybody’s Song But My Own” performed by the Kenny Wheeler Quintet on their Flutter By, Butterfly (1988) album was recently uploaded to the Internet. Wheeler’s original featuring Bill Elgart on drums, Dave Holland on bass, Stan Sulzmann on saxophones and flute, John Taylor on piano, and Wheeler on flugelhorn and cornet is here: