Plans call for Sunday’s Jazz Depot show to be split neatly down the middle, with pianist-vocalist Joe Wilkinson and singer Luisza Cornelius featured in the first half, and vocalist Darell Christopher and his band in the second. That’s according to the veteran performer Wilkinson, who’s also producing the first segment of this two-parter. And while he’s still considering whether or not to sing a song or two himself – he’s leaning toward a performance of “Lush Life” – he’s happy to be playing for Cornelius, who’s getting her splashiest Depot showcase to date after impressing at the Tuesday night jam sessions and appearing in the Wilkinson-produced Memorial Day show. After her performance in the latter, she earned the approval of a critic very close to Wilkinson’s heart.
“My wife said, `You know, she’s one of the best,’ and I said, `Coming from you, that’s pretty good,’ because I’m the one who takes all the critiques,” he says with a laugh. “Luisza has a real throaty delivery, in the Sarah Vaughan range, with that deep, strong, lower register.”
Although Cornelius has performed on the West Coast, she is, in a sense, a Joe Wilkinson discovery – at least as far as Tulsa audiences are concerned.
“I think she grew up in Tulsa, but I know that she lived in Los Angeles and sang in various clubs there,” he notes. “So she moved back to Tulsa, and we got acquainted last December when I was involved in providing the musicians and setting up a program for an event at the First Christian Church downtown called Jazz to the World. It was a fundraiser, pretty well attended, and after the show I was standing down front talking to some people when this young lady came up to me and introduced herself. She said, `I’m a singer.’
“I said, `okay.'” He laughs again. “I’ve heard that song before. We visited a few minutes, and she wanted to know where to go to get involved in doing jazz in Tulsa. So I told her about the Depot and said, `The best thing I can suggest is that you come on down to the jam sessions on Tuesday nights. That’s a regular thing that goes on, and ‘most anybody can get up and do something if they’ve got the ability.'”
Wilkinson himself was at one of the Tuesday jams when she showed up, and he helped her get started by sitting down with her and a piano in the Depot’s back room, finding the best key for the song she wanted to sing, and then sending her out to the stage to do the tune with the house band.
“And boy, it didn’t take long for them to feel like they wanted her to sing more,” he remembers.
That’ll happen Sunday, when she has a whole set to perform. It tentatively includes the likes of “Cry Me A River,” “Good Morning, Heartache,” “When Sunny Gets Blue,” and Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade.” Wilkinson will accompany her on piano – this time on the stage instead of a back room.
Darell Christopher, scheduled to come on with his group after intermission, recently produced and performed the well-received Martin Luther King Day show at the Depot. A Holland Hall and University of Tulsa graduate, he spent a considerable amount of time in Germany, where he taught gospel music, sang at weddings, and gradually added blues, jazz, and R&B to the spiritual music he’d learned in his youth. Ultimately, he formed an act called the Darell Christopher Blues Band, which toured all over Europe and had a German Top Ten hit with “Jealous Man.”
Returning to Tulsa at the beginning of the century, Christopher began earning a reputation for his work in musical theater and as a solo vocalist.
Wilkinson and Cornelius are set to begin the show at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, August 11th, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Members and Seniors enjoy discounted ticket prices at $10.00 each. General Admission tickets are only $15.00, or $20.00 for Reserved Table Seating. High school and middle school students admitted for only $5.00.
To enjoy the jazz, call Bettie Downing at (918) 281-8609 and purchase your tickets. The event is a part of the Jazz Hall’s Summer Concert Series.