Igor Willcox: The Thrill of Playing in the Moment
by Susan Frances
The Igor Willcox Quartet led by Brazilian born and bred drummer/composer Igor Willcox can teach everyone a lesson in the art of creative interaction and experiencing the thrill of playing in the moment. Accompanying Willcox in his quartet are pianist Vini Morales, saxophonist Wagner Barbosa, and bass guitarist Glecio Nascimento.
The bond that keeps these musicians together is expressed with enthusiasm by Willcox, “In short… first of all, these guys are my great friends, which for me is one of the most important things to have in a group. They are amazing musicians, we have a synergic environment, commitment to the music, and we identify ourselves musically.”
Willcox outlines his impression of each of his musical partners. “Vini Morales,” he begins, “this amazing pianist is a long-time friend. We used to play together in several other groups. This guy plays with a lot of energy with beautiful and expressive chords, and his way of improvisation is really special, aggressive, soft, intelligent, and melodic at the same time. It’s always a surprise the way he creates his solos and chords.”
“Glecio Nascimento,” he continues, “is also a super friend. We started to play in the band of the great Brazilian trombonist Bocato. Glecio is like a brother to me, brother of life and music. We are really connected. It’s impressive how we know each other. He always knows where I’m going to in the music. His bass grooves are killer, and his musicality always transcends with a good vibe and smile in the face.”
Lastly, “Wagner Barbosa,” he applauds, “is an amazing musician, modern jazz fusion saxophonist. You will notice influences coming from the genius John Coltrane till the virtuoso and genius guitarist Allan Holdsworth but transformed in his own way of improvisation with a powerful personality and strong and conscious phrases. Wagner is a great friend who joined the band in 2018. Clayton Sousa was the saxophonist before him, who recorded the albums #1 and LIVE!”
Willcox’s previous recordings as a leader include the EP Play Along and 3 full-length records entitled #1, LIVE!, and Live at the Jazz Room. Each received critical acclaim and gave him notoriety as a jazz fusionists, seamlessly blending multiple musical elements and concocting a mixture that is spontaneous and improvised.
The motivation for making his 4-track EP Play Along was mainly for educational purposes. “About the Play Along,” he regards, “I have a consistent work as a drummer here in Brazil. It is more than 20 years playing with Brazilian mainstream artists, instrumental music, and teaching. Many drummers asked me to make a ‘play-along’ with my tunes for practicing. I answered the requests and made available 4 songs with different levels and styles along with the scores.”
#1, released in 2017, was Willcox’s debut offering and sees him joined by a myriad of Brazilian musicians supporting him. The impetus for making #1 was a natural progression in Willcox’s estimation. “I always wanted to record a solo album because I had a lot of musical ideas in my mind. These ideas I transformed into compositions. Over time, I realized that there were a lot of compositions, so I decided to record an album, so my debut album #1 was born.”
Included on #1 is the jazz fusion composition “Room 73,” which epitomizes Willcox’s thinking as an improviser. “‘Room73’ is a composition that belongs to my first album #1,” he explains, “recorded in the studio in 2017. This song has a powerful melody, up-tempo beats, and a solid groove.” He discloses, “I have a way to compose, which I already imagine each instrument doing their parts, but of course, I let the musicians free to create their own ideas inside the idea I have proposed in the composition.”
Looking back at the details of the track, he describes, “This tune, in particular, we develop a lot of things together during the rehearsals and day by day during the concerts. The solo parts for sax and electric piano are divided into 4 suites: 1- Free Solo, 2- Improvise along with the band in the Gm key, 3- The third part is a deconstruction of the past parts with a free solo to the final part [part 4] where we follow the soloist on the chorus with the chords, which are part of the melody. It’s hard to explain this in a text, but we try to follow those structures on the solos.”
He admits, “We never play this tune in the same way. Every time we play, it is different because it’s jazz. We are improvising during the solos and everything can happen. The most important thing is to listen to each other. The interplay between us is fundamental. We are a well-matched group. Many years of playing and traveling together and a lot of friendship.”
In summation, it is these components of spontaneity with the musicians improvising around each other that attracted him to jazz fusion. “I think that jazz fusion is the kind of music in which I can better express myself in music.” He determines, “The freedom, the synergy, the energy, the improvisation, and the mix of several kinds of music are amazing and challenging.”
“Each time we play can sound different,” he observes. “You can play the same tune 10 times, each time you play that tune will sound different because that kind of music allows you to create different situations inside the context. I believe it’s the best way to connect to my music partners and the audience. It’s like a dialogue in the form of music.”
Willcox followed #1 with LIVE!, released in 2018. The CD is his debut effort with his quartet and recorded live in various locations. Working with a quartet inspired him to think beyond bringing his music to local clubs like on LIVE! and to take his music to a worldwide stage using the internet.
He summarizes how he started to use the internet to reach a broader range of listeners, “I use my website igorwillcox.com, my fan page on Facebook and Instagram, which are excellent tools. The streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Bandcamp, etc, are also very good tools because you can achieve a worldwide audience listening to your music. I like, in particular, Apple Music and Spotify because they provide reports keeping me informed in which country I have more plays and downloads, which tune has more plays, etc.”
His latest endeavor Live at the Jazz Room, released in October 2019, features the quartet’s live performance recorded at the Jazz Room club in Ontario, Canada. He recounts about the quartet’s recording, “When I received the Jazz Room’s contract, it was written that the jazz club would be recording the concert and I could use the recording for any purposes, which I thought would be a great opportunity to release a live album.” He earmarks, “That day was really special. It was our 4th concert on the Canadian tour. The group was hot and well-matched.” He remembers, “The club was totally crowded, and the audience very excited.”
“When I returned to Brazil,” he recalls, “I took a listen to the recording and wow… I felt very impressed with the result. The group was very inspired!”
The experience was a source of inspiration. Audiences can continue to enjoy or see for the first time these performances on Willcox’s youtube channel found at https://www.youtube.com/user/igorwillcox Willcox prescribes, “Youtube is currently the best way to promote my videos because people in any part of the world can find my group. In my opinion, it’s essential to have a youtube channel.” He recommends, “Every artist should consider spending some time creating a youtube channel. I’ve got a lot of gigs because of my videos. I try to record every concert I can.”
For posterity purposes, he suggests, “To produce some videos in recording studios where you have the opportunity to record with good cameras in high-quality video and audio.” This is not only a way to bring an artist’s body of work to audiences, but it cements the thrill that the quartet experiences playing in the moment, which frequently with jazz, fusion changes with every performance.
Performing live is essential for jazz fusion musicians like Willcox, who touts a litany of jazz festivals to his dossier. It is the surge of energy while playing live that fuels the creative ideas to come to the surface for jazz fusionists, a skill that aligns with Willcox’s nature.
“The jazz festivals are the opportunity you have to show your music to many different audiences,” he declares, “not only jazz appreciators. It’s so good to see people from different cultures appreciating jazz fusion. I also like this environment,” he adds, “of knowing other musicians and bands, normally the jazz festivals have a big line-up.”
It’s this environment of meeting, discovering, and working with a diverse group of musicians that fodders Willcox’s impulse to create music. He endorses a lengthy list of musicians as his musical influences, professing, “I love Brazilian music, and I have a lot of Brazilian music influence. Artists like Tom Jobim, Milton Nascimento, Ivan Lins, Hermeto Pascoal, Grupo Um, among others are part of my musical growth. I like the rhythm, the harmony, and melody of these composers. It sounds unique and very special.”
He also embraces, “Artists outside of Brazil have a stronger influence on me. I grew up listening to jazz and fusion: Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chick Corea & Return To Forever, Allan Holdsworth, Wayne Shorter, Weather Report, John Coltrane, among others.”
“It’s hard to explain why,” he reveals, “but it’s something that comes from my soul. I really identify with this kind of music, mainly fusion, which is a genre that there are a lot of mixtures between genres. Which, in my point of view, is universal music from the worldwide. Not from a specific country or region,” he maintains.
Though Willcox’s artistic expressions are articulated using the drums, it wasn’t the first instrument he learned to play. “The first instrument I’ve tried to play was piano,” he confides. “I had some classes, but I was too young, and my only concern at that time was to play soccer with my friends…lol.”
He recollects fondly, “I always had a fascination with the drums since I’m a child. I was always drumming everywhere.”
Making music is a talent that Willcox has not only honed on his own, but he can credit his parents for passing such genes onto him, both of whom were musical artists in their own right. “My mother is a great singer,” he shares proudly, “and my father, Paulo Cesar Willcox (in memoriam), was a very important maestro, arranger, pianist, and vibraphonist…They taught me a lot,” he proclaims, “but not only about music, but about life and how committed a musician has to be to its art.”
He reminisces, “I’ve played with my mother several times, and it was amazing, but not with my father, unfortunately. He died very early, I was only 9 months. I learned a lot from him listening to his recordings.”
Willcox’s introduction to making music of his own creation began in the jazz trio the New Samba Jazz, which he unveils, “The New Samba Jazz was born in my home. I created this project with my friend Erik Escobar on keyboards and my brother the bassist Chico Willcox. We lived together in the same house where we used to play together almost every day, so it was natural.”
He purports, “The idea of the New Samba Jazz was to play Brazilian music in a different way than the traditional, using our influence of jazz fusion and putting it on the music. To play Brazilian music without borders and with freedom.”
“I learned a lot about interplay,” he discerns. “When you play in trio formation, there are only 3 instruments, and the communication has to be intense. Every player has to listen to each other, and the group has to sound as a whole thing. Actually, this thinking works in any kind of format but in trio, I think, it’s a harder challenge.”
He ascertains about his choice to play the drums and his decision to play jazz fusion, “I love this thing about creating rhythms, a melodic pattern, or even a composition that the drums offer. There are a lot of possibilities playing drums, you can create simple rhythms till complex, mixing many kinds into one rhythm, or even make melodies on the kit. It’s very fascinating how playing drums stimulates my creativity and musicality. I can really express myself, what I feel, think, playing the drums.”
Born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1981, Igor Willcox’s acumen as a drummer, composer, and leader exceed that of others from his generation. His ongoing journey to discover and learn from musicians, past and present, has made him a pupil and an educator of the jazz-fusion form. His body of work, which is still growing, is an affirmation of the compatibility that Willcox feels for creating and playing jazz fusion.
In closing, Willcox humbly remarks, “Thank you so much, Modern Jazz Today, for this amazing interview and for supporting my music around the world. Congratulations on the good work! It’s a pleasure!!”
About Susan Frances:
Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island, I always enjoyed writing and made several contributions to my high school literary magazine, The Lion’s Pen. Influenced by writers of epic novels including Colleen McCullough and James Clavell, I gravitated to creative writing. After graduating from New York University with a BA in Liberal Arts, I tried my hand at conventional jobs but always returned to creative writing. Since 1998, I have been a freelance writer and have over three thousand articles to various e-zines including: Jazz Times, Blogcritics, Yahoo Voices, Goodreads.com, Authors and Books (books.wiseto.com), TheReadingRoom.com, Amazon.com, Epinions.com, Fictiondb.com, LibraryThing.com, BTS emag, BarnesandNoble.com, RomanticHistoricalReviews.com, AReCafe.com, Hybrid Magazine, and BookDepository.com. In 2013 and 2014, I was a judge in the Orange Rose Writing Competition sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America located in Brea, California.