8 March 2024

Award-winning pianist returns to the region where his musical journey began

| Sally Hopman
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Man in front of keyboards

Jazz musician Wilbur Whitta is returning to his roots, Braidwood and surrounds, for a series of concerts in April. Photo: Sonic Sydney.

When Wilbur Whitta takes to the keyboards next month at a variety of gigs throughout southern NSW, it will be just like coming home.

The young musician, who was scouted by ABC Jazz, was born and bred in the region, the grandson of noted environmentalist, Paul Dan, who passed away recently.

“People may remember him through his property at Mongarlowe where he was very interested in sustainability,” Wilbur said. “He was a research agronomist for the NSW Department of Agriculture, but moved out to Mongarlowe when he retired and where he did lots of volunteer work in the community.”

But for Wilbur, his grandfather was special for another reason. Paul Dan saw early on the gift his grandson had for music, particularly piano – and paid for his music lessons throughout his early career.

“I owe him quite a lot for my musical journey,” Wilbur said. “He was a great music lover.

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“I used to visit him a lot and play for him. I remember how he always used to come to all my school concerts in Canberra.”

Wilbur, 30, started playing piano at around eight years of age. His parents were keen for him to start learning the instrument, he was less keen. But he attributes his Canberra teacher, Stephanos Malikides, with whom he studied for 10 years, as helping him get to where he is today – one of the country’s leading jazz pianists.

“He was more of a classical teacher but he was open to showing me jazz as well – that’s what got me really interested,” he said.

The two have kept in contact, with Stephanos attending all of his former student’s concerts when he plays in the region.

Wilbur also attributes his passion for the instrument to the Australian National University and its music programs, two of which he was invited to take part, adding that they gave him “access to a great range of teachers and other interested students.

“It was something my family would not have been able to afford at the time,” he said, “so I was very grateful to be selected.”

At age 18, Wilbur moved to Sydney to study at the Conservatorium of Music. Today, he is one of the country’s leading young jazz musicians, performing around Australia, in the United Kindom, Europe and Japan.

Man playing piano

Wilbur Whitta rehearsing for his upcoming tour of southern NSW. Photo: Sonic Sydney.

More recently, he has appeared as a member of legendary Australian jazz outfit Ten Part Invention and has performed alongside international artists Kit Downes and Will Vinson. He was also selected as a finalist in the 2021 National Jazz Awards, and in 2019, while living in London, won the UK-based Dankworth Jazz Composition Award.

“He [Wilbur] is prodigiously talented … I believe he will go on to become an important voice in the genre, both through his piano playing and through his compositions.” – Kit Downes.

Wilbur and his band Wildfire – Tom Avgenicos (trumpet), Jack Stoneham (alto saxophone) and Alex Inman-Hislop (drums) will perform in the capital region next month, with the highlight being the launch of his album just ahead of a concert in Braidwood on 20 April.

The local tour starts on 13 April at St Jude’s Bowral, followed by the Harden Silo Sounds concert series on 14 April, Goulburn’s Hume Conservatorium on 19 April, Braidwood’s St Andrews Anglican Church on 20 April – the start of the 2024 Braidwood Concert Series – before more concerts down on the South Coast.

For more information and tickets, head to the Humantix website.

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