If you don’t know who Jon Wirtz is, you can be forgiven, but only inasmuch as he’s a local product, and it’s always harder to find fame in your own backyard. But Wirtz is a nearly incomparable pianist and Rhodes player. He’s found his was onto stages as a sideman for the likes of Melissa Etheridge, Bid Head Todd, and even Justin Timberlake. His most recent outing, last year’s Tourist, was hailed in Huffington Post’s Best of Jazz 2013. And though you can be forgiven for not knowing him until now, you certainly can’t be forgiven for missing him from here on out. Here, he talks about making a living as a musician in Colorado, playing the Rhodes, and his overall writing process.
French Davis: How tough has it been to make a living as a musician in Denver? You’re doing it full time now, yes? Tough transition?
Jon Wirtz: It’s been a lot easier than I expected. I quit my full time job in April of 2012, and have been doing music full-time ever since. The tough parts were very subtle adjustments, like getting comfortable with the ebb and flow, the highs and lows of the music business. It wasn’t just a change in employment status, it was a change in lifestyle. I had to be more than comfortable with unpredictability, spontaneity, and going with the flow in every aspect of my life—not just gigs. I feel like I’ve adjusted very well, and I absolutely love it.
FD: I love your Rhodes sound. How did you discover the Rhodes? How did you develop your approach to it?
JW: Thank you! I’m sure I heard the Rhodes in pop songs my whole life, but I started to become more conscious of it hearing Stevie Wonder, ’90s hip-hop, Herbie Hancock and Phish. I never consciously tried to “develop an approach,” but I’m sure I was influenced by those elements, as well as classic Rhodes players and songs. When I was growing up, I was like a sponge with any sort of music, just soaking up what I connected with and trying to sort it all out when it came time to play.
FD: How has the Colorado music scene evolved since you got your start?
JW: Well, I think the Colorado scene has put itself on the map. I think, or at least I’d hope, it’s taken a lot more seriously now by the rest of the country than it was ten years ago. Bands like The Flobots, DeVotchKa, Matt Morris, Gregory Alan Isakov, The Lumineers, Meese—these guys all busted out and at least made a few waves nationally. Whether that was for a moment in time, or they’re still doing it now, they at least helped draw attention to the scene here. There is definitely no lack of talent, that’s for sure.
FD: What are you working on now? What’s in the near future?
JW: Right now I’m trying to play with as many different musicians, in as many different styles as I can. I wanna keep learning, keep growing as a musician and a person. I love having a week where I’m booked for a jazz gig, a Nuskool gig, some electronic music, solo piano, a rock gig, a church gig, etc. The more diverse, the better. On the business side, I’d like to find a label to help with my next record, and even this last release. What I’m working on now is what I’m always working on–figuring out what the hell I’m doing.
Jon Wirtz’s Nuskool plays at Next Door, 1035 Pearl Street, Boulder on Wednesday, February 26. Check out www.jonwirtzmusic.com for more information.