SCENE - June 2012
THE SPANISH INQUISITION
By George Halas
In keeping with the time-honored tradition of this column, your humble Inquisitor reveals yet another incredible band that you can see and hear, in most cases, without paying a cover charge.
The band, KWT4, is comprised of three all-star caliber musicians: bassist Kevin Wells, drummer Tony Taylor and guitarist Tom Theabo. The trio is appealing on several levels – they are extremely good individual players who have developed a captivating synergy, they are likeable people who exude a pervasive sense of fun when they play and they produce music that has evolved creatively into something both truly unique and very easy to assimilate.
Composer, arranger, conductor and trumpeter extraordinaire Bob Levy, who, among his many credits, is the leader of the 18-piece jazz band The Big Band Reunion, is a big fan of KWT4.
“One of the real joys in listening to jazz has been the times when there is wonderful musical empathy and compatibility among and between players,” he said. “Tom, Kevin and Tony manage to bring forth marvelous creative energy in the varied and diverse grooves, be they swing, Latin, blues or rock. Hearing them is always a pleasure and a treat.”
Levy, like many other local standouts, has added his trumpet to KWT4 sound with excellent results.
“Those occasions when I’ve played with them are times that I’ve relished and always look forward to,” he said. “The Fox Valley is very fortunate to have such a great group right here.”
The three first met at UW-Oshkosh back in the late 70’s and have often played together in various bands while also forging individual musical identities. They played with Janet Planet, Rick Smith and Dave Jahnke in Body Talk in the early 80’s. Taylor went on to join John Harmon in Fire and Ice while Wells played in the big band, Play Time, and a rock band, Max Gain.
Much of Theabo’s impressive musical resume has emanated from his collaborations with Planet. He has played guitar and arranged songs on several of her albums as well as performing as the guitarist in her live shows. The two also produced an album as a duo, “The Consequence of Two,” with Theabo on acoustic guitar. The pair still performs at Gardina’s in Oshkosh on the first Monday of every month.
KWT4 has existed as a trio for just about 10 years.
“The trio just seemed so strong,” Wells said. “With Theabo out front, you just need a strong rhythm section. The guy’s just so talented.”
“Each one of use gets to play a lot and contribute to the sound. Not one of us can be weak,” Theabo added. “I can be somewhat self-indulgent. I get to solo a lot more in the trio and I have to provide the lead.”
Theabo is quick to point out that his playing is greatly facilitated by the foundation that the chemistry between Taylor and Wells provides.
“It is an intangible but real thing, this groove thing that they share, that happens,” he said. “They have a great rhythmic sense and I’ve always been attracted to that.”
“My forte is more harmonic,” he continued. “The differences are desirable and I like the combination. Together we make cool music.”
Theabo and Wells are unanimous in their assessment of Taylor’s strengths and contributions.
“I don’t know a better drummer,” Wells said. “Tony keeps the pocket and is always right where he is supposed to be.”
“Tony and I know each other very well – we have similar backgrounds and love the same kind of music,” he continued. “Jazz is all about communication. We listen to each other very well and he anticipates what I do and vice versa.”
“We argue about everything – women, sports – but never about music.”
“I’ve played with a lot of good drummers,” Theabo said, “and Tony lays down a good groove – his strength is the groove and in the context of our trio, he thrives.”
“He reacts very well and anticipates what I’m doing. He’s right with me, paying attention and he’s right on top of it,” he continued. “He can make it sound like a bigger band. He has the opportunity to be a leader and he is very charismatic.”
Theabo and Taylor agree that Wells is a tremendous asset to the trio in many ways. “He’s such a great guy, very unselfish and loves to play. Tony would agree that he is very generous,” Theabo said. “He stays “at home” very well and stays solid in a very positive way. I’ve gotta have someone who can keep it together.”
“He’s a phenomenal bass player who has been living with that thing ever since I’ve known him,” Taylor said. “His musical realm is such that you won’t find music that he is not familiar with. He feels the music, he feels what it’s all about. He’ll play what I would play.”
“As a drummer, it’s great not to have to think about it. I can just play,” Taylor added.” I really enjoy playing with him.”
A critic once described Theabo as “playing guitar as though he has 20 fingers.” He is both technically gifted and has developed a unique and highly listenable style over his stellar career.
“Tom is a guitar player’s guitar player – he can do it all – and playing with him has been like taking a 30-year guitar lesson,” Wells said. “The way he plays makes us play better. He is a hell of an arranger, too.”
“Tom is seasoned and polished, a versatile and all-encompassing player,” Taylor said. “He allows us to just play and not worry. That’s when it’s really fun and it happens every time we play.”
“We genuine enjoy playing together,” echoed Theabo, “and it’s great when the audience enjoys the music at the same level.”
KWT4 has taken a number of musical styles and combined them into a truly unique sound that is, at times, difficult to describe. The set list on any given night includes jazz and blues standards, Miles Davis and James Brown as well as brilliant and highly creative instrumental arrangements of Beatles’ tunes like “Yesterday” and “A Day in the Life.”
“It depends on which one of us you talk to,” Wells said. “I’ll say it’s jazz. Tom is a brilliant jazz musician and he’ll probably say it’s more R&B. Our music covers a lot of bases.”
“It’s a variety of across-the-board music tied together by a contemporary jazz feel,” Taylor said. “As time goes on, you find more music that you like and, at some point, you want to express those things yourself in a wide array and a lot of different emotions.”
“To me, it’s the American song book of the last 40-50 years,”Theabo said. “We use more sophisticated chord progressions and the Beatles tunes are treated with exotic interludes influenced by hip hop, Wes Montgomery and George Bensonesque guitar.”
All three cited John Harmon as a major influence on their music. “We’re just proud to be in the jazz fraternity and have the opportunity to know and play with people like John and Janet,” Wells said. “I also want to emphasize how important it is to support live music. Be it jazz, or any other live musical performance. There are so many talented musicians among us. Come out and enjoy!”
Regardless of what you call it and how well it’s played, an audience cannot help but to be drawn in by the trio’s infectious good nature and the sheer sense of fun they have playing.
“We enjoy it when people appreciate it,” Taylor said.
“As musicians, if you’ve had a few moments when you look at each other and smile, you’ve had a good night and that feeling stays with you,” Theabo said. “How am I so lucky to be playing with such a cool trio?”