As he cued up his backing tape, Wilson told himself not to get nervous. But there was De Niro, "looking at me with the crossed legs, the cigar, the head cocked, the are-you-looking-at-me look." Knees melting, Wilson told himself to play his violin as though he were De Niro sinking his molars into a character. It worked. "They listened to every verse," Wilson remembers. "They were just, like, entranced. I never had as good an audience as I did in that little room."
Since he moved from Cleveland to Hollywood in 1985, Wilson has become something of a violinist to the stars. His easygoing style became a hit at parties, where he's entertained the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Swifty Lazar, Berry Gordy, and three James Bonds. Henry Mancini was a guest at one shindig, and he offered Wilson session work. David Bowie hired him to give his then-girlfriend lessons. Wilson calls his habit of performing for entertainment elite his "little shtick."
"When I play live," he says, "people stop chewing their food."
When he arrived in L.A., he was just another piano man trying to peddle his songs. He had a job playing piano at a club; occasionally he would pluck a few numbers on the violin. One night Doc Severinsen was watching. Says Wilson: "He came over afterwards and said, 'You sound nice on the piano, but you really know how to play the violin.'"
Wilson, who is 53, had given up on the violin more than once. It was the first instrument he learned to play, but he quit it when he was twelve. He picked it up again at Baldwin-Wallace, where he studied music theory, but stopped playing after graduation. During his nomadic twenties, Wilson worked as a boat builder, a sardine factory worker, and a church organist. He returned to Northeast Ohio and his music, earning a graduate degree in viola from Cleveland State. It would have been logical for Wilson to pursue an orchestra job, but "I don't want to dress up like a penguin six nights a week."
In fact, he probably wouldn't have picked up the violin again were it not for the Hungarian gypsies he lived near in Ohio City. They played the violin in such a casual manner--"all loose and goosey," to use his term--that he began to see all the instrument's possibilities. "The violin's a very cranky thing to play," he says. "It seems like violinists have never approached it for the simple voice it can be. It doesn't have to play really high; it doesn't have to play really fast." Wilson describes his style as "breezy, off-the-cuff, warm. It's not virtuoso, it's not show-off; it's more subdued and focused on interpretive aspects of the melody. This is not Jean-Luc Ponty."
Last month Wilson released his second CD, The Romance of Paris. His treatment of Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin compositions brings to mind Sunday brunch, not waving hair and contorted fingers. Wilson says his next effort will be a group project with a similarly velvet touch, "kind of Sade meets Dean Martin, and Kenny G's playing the violin--contemporary crooning with a groovy kind of rhythm."
The Romance of Paris is available on Swallowtail Records. For info, call 612-722-6849.
When we think of the Guinness Book of World Records, we think of trampolines, dance marathons, and a guy with two-and-a-half packs of lit cigarettes in his mouth. WJCU-FM/88.7 personalities Seamiuse, Mark Owens, Brian Kelley, and Timmy Delaney will get into the big book with ... Celtic music?
"No one has ever done continuous eighteen straight hours of Irish music in America," Seamiuse says. "We checked with Guinness."
Beginning at 6 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day, Seamiuse and friends will play Irish music until midnight. WJCU DJ Uncle Fred will man the knobs in the John Carroll University studio as Seamiuse, Owens, and Kelley power around town in the W U Know Who Buggy, visiting more than twenty Irish hangouts. Delaney will provide updates throughout the day from Flannery's Pub. The show is to be broadcast on 22 stations around the country, including four in Ireland.
Last year the WJCU jocks did sixteen hours of Irish music, but did not have the proper documentation to satisfy the editors at Guinness. This year's show will be recorded, and proctors will monitor the action. And the Guinness folks do try to make sure knuckleheads don't attempt stunts they have no business attempting. "We all have to be certified, healthwise," Seamiuse says.
The Irish music marathon benefits Patrick's Promise, which aids families whose children suffer from Shinzel-Giedion syndrome, an extremely rare (about thirty cases have been diagnosed) and devastating form of epilepsy. Seamiuse's one-year-old son suffers from the disease.
The Cowslingers promise more of their "trademark, in-yer-face cowpunkabilly slop" on their new CD, Americana-a-Go-Go. The band plays the Grog Shop Saturday, March 13 with the Lonesome Bones...WMMS-FM/100.7's 1999 calendar poster won a Silver Award at the National Calendar Awards competition. Who knew there was such a thing?...Swing impresario Michael Devine is hosting a night of retro music and film every Thursday night at the Rhythm Room. Zombo's Mondo Record Party features lounge, surf, swing, and rockabilly music and similarly themed videos. "It's sort of a cross between Ghoulardi and Dr. Demento," Devine says. The Weird Lovemakers, a techno lounge band from Columbus, will play a set March 11...The JiMiller Band plays a free show at Peabody's DownUnder on St. Patrick's Day. Miller says the show will begin at 3:30 p.m. and run "until we peter out."...Lakeland Community College in Kirtland hosts the second annual Vision Quest Folk Festival March 16. The free show features Charlie Mosbrook, Tina Bergman and Brian Thompson, Charley Brown, Brian Henke, Sarah Goslee Reed, and Tim Wallace...Kidd Wicked guitarist Billy Morris will tour the Far East with former Racer X and Mr. Big axeman Paul Gilbert.