Artist spotlight: Bill Perkins

Hannah Swayze • Mar 18, 2019 at 11:10 AM

For Bill Perkins, jazz is a lifetime pursuit. A guitar player, he began playing jazz in the late 1970s and hasn’t stopped since. To Perkins, bringing jazz wherever he goes is important. He’s played everywhere he’s lived, and even when he’s on vacation he find someone to play with. 

Perkins can be found playing his guitar or the upright bass in a couple different bands, improvising or playing some of his own compositions. 

Q: How did you start playing music?

A: A: I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and all my friends were playing guitar and singing. And I couldn't sing, so I felt really left out. But then, when bands like Cream came along and it was mostly instrumental, I watched what they were doing with their fingers and well, I could do that. I got to playing rock guitar first, and still it was kind of important to sing. So I didn’t sing, and as I got better I kinda got bored with the three-chord progressions and wanted to do something more exciting… When I discovered jazz I felt really at home, so since 1978 I’ve been playing Jazz.

Q: How did you introduction into the jazz world go?

A: I’m not sure exactly how it first began, but they had a Sunday night jazz event in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I was living at the time and they had really good people. Jerry Coker was a famous jazz saxophone teacher (and) was teaching at Duke at the time, and there were all these great musicians around and that was inspiring. And I bought some records that were really cathartic. Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Stan Getz, Chick Corea, stuff like that. I just had to do it and I was very fortunate to encounter a guitarist that was willing to help me get started and we played guitar duets. I learned so much from that guy in the first year.

Q: As someone who has played a couple different styles of music, what makes jazz the one that you stuck with?

A: There is so much freedom and so much intricacy to it. The chords are amazing; it’s all about the harmonies. The chords are way ahead of any other form of music that you can play and learning to improvise over them is challenging and exciting.

Q: Is it almost all improvisation?

A: That’s basically what jazz is about. Some jazz player go through their entire lives without writing a song. But they take other people's songs and do amazing things with them, and every solo is an improvisation.

Q: What has kept you playing all this time?

A: You never wear it out. There’s always something more to learn. I learn stuff every time I play. It’s just a lifetime pursuit.

Q: What does jazz mean to you?

A: What it is to me is freedom. To play what I want to play and to explore harmony and you can explore harmony by composing or playing interesting chords over traditional songs or learning how to improvise over the chords that are in front of you. You’re exploring the harmony. It’s about exploring, I would say that. Jazz is about exploring. Freedom and exploration.

JC Jazz jam is a jazz night that happens every Thursday at 8 p.m. at Wellington’s Restaurant. Each week, a different band plays two sets. The first is whatever they want and the second is where anyone who wants to play can join in. For more information, find them on Facebook at Jc Jazz Jam.

To read more about Bill Perkins, visit Perkjazz.com.