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Follow Friday: Jeff Wichmann

The trumpet and koto player discusses his first funeral gig and the benefits of sensory deprivation.
Friday Feb 26, 2010.     By Centerstage Chicago Staff
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Jeff Wichmann

Follow Friday is a weekly interview series in which each Chicago artist we talk to recommends a fellow local act.

This week's guest: Jeff Wichmann
Recommended by: Darren Garvey

Until recently, Jeff Wichmann's musical worlds have been divided into two camps - the trumpet and the Japanese koto (a traditional stringed instrument). He's put out four albums playing horns and keys with the Chicago rock band TENKI and has been seen marching around town with Environmental Encroachment. He's also been playing the koto in local and international ensembles, working with experimental artists like Rei Hotoda and HAL, and touring with the Steppenwolf Theater production of Haruki Murakami's "After The Quake." In 2009 he finally fused his two worlds and recorded his first solo album called Ahhh!!!, which will be released this spring. Catch a preview on March 19 at Hotti Biscotti.

Describe your sound in 140 characters or less.
Experimental Japanese koto brass rock: James Bond sipping a martini with Sun Ra in a digital tea house floating in space.

Where and when was your first show - and what was it like?
Well, I've had a hundred "first shows." I hated my first piano recital when 8 years old at McCormick Place. The trumpet has always gotten me involved in the wackiest as well as the most traditional of bands, jazz ensembles, orchestras - the usual. But in college, I went through my Harrison sitar stage and began studying the Japanese koto and Asian music. My first paid gig was in a funeral home in Rock Island. A family wanted something "Japanesey" and hired me. So there I was playing Japanese folk songs with a body in a casket 20 feet away while the whole family stood around me holding hands and crying. I'm still feeling that weird karma. Then, I moved to Japan to study under Kazue Sawai and had my first sort of official koto concert in Tokyo back in 1992. Huge concert hall. Hundreds of people. Half-way around the earth. Young, adventurous and scared. I was playing in a trio of koto players, a contemporary piece, and was like, here we go, big debut on an instrument I barely knew. I was so nervous that my hands completely froze and I could hardly perform. I slopped through the concert. It was a mess. There and then I learned the valuable lesson of failure before success.

Name three of your favorite Chicago spots (bars, restaurants, venues, parks - whatever).
Always love the Hideout for the rootsy atmosphere, the intimacy of shows, and cheap PBRs.

Chicago Food Corp./Joong Boo Market is the best place in the city for Asian market goods and the Snack Corner restaurant inside has the cheapest and best no-frills Korean food around.

To totally space out my mind and body I love a soak at SpaceTime Tanks - one of the oldest sensory deprivation tank facilities in the US.

What Chicago artist/band should we interview next and why?
Model Citizens Big Band. For years, every so often I'll head to Bucktown's Gallery Cabaret every third Monday of the month to experience the musical madness of director Brian O'Hern and his big-band gang of top-notch cats. No jazz snootiness or shoe gazing here. Anything goes with 20 people on stage drinking beer and ripping the hell out of any chart O'Hern throws at them while the always packed audience dances, hoots and hollers. It's so under the radar and a total Chicago experience. Bliss.


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