Kahlil Wilson, alumnus of both the UC Berkeley Young Musicians’ Program and the Oakland Youth Chorus, comes home to the Bay Area this week to sing with soprano Hope Briggs and others at the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s “Night at the Opera.”
Under the direction of Michael Morgan, it’s on tomorrow night at 8 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland.
Playing both classical and jazz gigs on the same weekend in the same city is almost unheard of. But Kahlil’s OEBS appearance will be followed on Tuesday by his debut at Yoshi’s Oakland, singing jazz with the Dan Marshak Group. His first album, Easy to Love, has been praised by jazz guitar maestro Kenny Burrell and singer Taj Mahal. Then he’ll be continuing around the Bay, on Nov. 18 and 19 at Silo’s in Napa, and on Nov. 20 at Enrico’s in San Francisco’s North Beach.
The recent honors grad in ethnomusicology from UCLA spoke with exhilaration about singing in the recent Central Avenue Jazz Festival in Los Angeles two acts before [bandleader-arranger] Gerald Wilson.
“The whole atmosphere was special,” Wilson said. “It was something I’d never seen before, an audience I’d never had the chance to perform for ... and I was well received. They take music seriously there. My mother said it was the hardest audience, yet they were telling me afterwards that they could hear Carmen McRae, especially, in my sound. It made me feel true to the music.”
Wilson, who started out studying classical singing, competing at one point “on that historic stage” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, discovered a love for ethnomusicology and has been “straddling both worlds—or all three—performing jazz and popular vocals as well as classical opera and early music,” he said.
“I wasn’t going about educating myself in jazz in a comprehensive way,” Wilson said. “So I didn’t really know what I was getting into. But I have an artistic need for new music constantly. I seek it out, listen to it for my own needs. I was lucky to get in with Seth Riggs, the biggest name in pop vocal coaching—everybody’s been through his studio: Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand ... At 70, he’s a warm and giving mentor. I studied hard with him for a year solid and still see him.”
Wilson went on: “I still do classical music, applying what I’ve learned to what my voice and ear tell me I should be doing.”
He says he snuck into jazz signing.
“I applied at the last minute for the Jose Iturbe Competition, where they ask for a non-classical component: two Cole Porter, two Gershwin, two others not outright grand opera,” Wilson said. “I was lucky to meet, for my accompanist, Berkeley Everett, a multidimensional artist. We were both crash learning. He was relearning Baroque piano he hadn’t come across since his early classical training, and I was crash-learning to sing jazz in front of people. We made it together through all the rounds to the finals.”
About singing with Hope Briggs and the Oakland East Bay Symphony, Wilson said, “It’s a privilege to perform with Hope. She’s an artist—and an especially nice person to work with. The first time I sang with OEBS, she helped make me feel right at home.”
A Night At The Opera
Oakland East Bay Symphony
8 p.m., Fri. Nov. 13
Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway,
Dan Marshak Group
Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West
Tues. Nov. 17, 8 p.m.