Ron Wilkins, Joël Dilley, and Darren Kuper recently returned from a tour of Russia, and it’s unlikely that Eurasia will ever be quite the same.
The trio of local jazz virtuosos made the trip at the invitation of Wilkins’ old friend, pianist Valeri Grohovski. Wilkins has battled kidney disease for the last several months, but, thankfully, his health held up through a demanding schedule of performances, covering nine Russian cities and multiple concerts in Moscow.
Consistently packing some of the country’s finest concert halls, the group ran through classic jazz material, including Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” and Clark Terry’s “Mumbles,” a scat showcase for Wilkins. He says Russian audiences took to calling him “The Black Trombone,” a viable superhero name, and reminiscent of how Montreal Expos fans responded in 1969 when they were confronted with the exoticism of a burly, Cheeto-haired American outfielder named Rusty Staub: They dubbed Staub “Le Grand Orange.”
Wilkins says Grohovski enjoyed the shows so much he plans to come to Texas to record with the band this summer.