Kenny Wheeler played with fearlessness and subtlety

The Artistry of… Kenny Wheeler

If you are going to improvise, you must be fearless. Key to that is to not confuse that fearlessness with aggression or wild, almost cavalier, abandon. Subtlety in improvisation also effectively penetrates and captures. It holds fast to listeners and fellow musicians equally.

A quality that is often mentioned about the artistry of Kenny Wheeler was that of being unassuming. This was the artistic foundation of strength. The improvisation is charmingly unpredictable. Technically taking literal melodic leaps, testing but not abandoning harmonic lines all with an almost trademarked subtlety. This quality was also in his sense of humour; album titles often had playful double meanings and were also often as simple as expressing a love for animals.

This phrase about how he composed says much about his artistry: “The melody and the chords work together to create a fabric that is very logical.” The comparison to fabric and weave is perfect. It’s all about testing blend.



The Artistry of… is a weekly series that reflects on the passion and essence of an artist. It airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish.


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