Vocalist Kalil Wilson has become one of the most potent and promising vocalists of his generation. Gifted with a powerful yet nuanced voice and with a technical versatility that positions him comfortably in jazz, R&B, pop, and classical, Wilson has earned high marks from the music press and has captivated audiences from Barcelona to Berkeley. His bright re-imaginings of jazz standards and originals are well-informed by the rich history of great jazz singing while melding seamlessly with his heartfelt, eclectic stylings.
An Oakland native, Wilson's Kalil's early life was filled with music. He is the son of well-known Nigerian bassist/bandleader Babá Ken
Okulolo and an American mom whose huge record collection of vintage jazz, African, R&B, and salsa helped trigger Kalil’s musical awakening. He describes a later encounter with an aria from Puccini that left him shaken and moved. “It was just this incredibly visceral experience, turning your body into this sound cannon,” he recalls.
As a youngster, he was mentored by the Oakland Youth Chorus and the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley. He went on to earn a spot in UCLA’s Voice and Opera program, performing classical music, while achieving an honors degree in a field he loved: ethnomusicology. “I was looking for that meaning I had encountered as a child, the idea of music as something that’s not isolated from the audience, that could move people and build a community. "
In addition to his classical work, winning numerous competitions and singing lead opera roles and concerts, Wilson has found wide acclaim on the international jazz scene. “I started to realize that many of the musical styles I had heard when I was young are really forms of jazz,” he says. “They may not be called jazz, but they contain all the same forces that are at work in jazz. They are all conversations, people working things out within a melodic and harmonic framework."
Encouraged in this pursuit by jazz legend Kenny Burrell, he recorded and released his first album, Easy To Love. The set showcases Wilson’s unique renditions of beloved standards from the American Songbook, and heartfelt, soulful interpretations of his own original songs. His next album, showcasing his original compositions, is to be released soon.
For the West Coast press and radio community, Easy to Love was aptly titled. The San Francisco Chronicle called Wilson “a star on the rise … well on his way to an impressive career.” AllAboutJazz.com praised the album as “a debut of bottomless depth and grandeur.” Melanie Berzon, music director at KCSM 91.1 FM, called the album “just a really, really beautiful, fine piece of work.” The album not only garnered consistent airplay on jazz radio, but also served as a platform for a series of noteworthy performances on the West Coast club and festival circuit.
Wilson has traveled and performed in Europe, sharing stages with many jazz greats and even dueting with legendary Cuban vocalist Omara Portuondo in Barcelona. Upon his return to the U.S., he was selected as a finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition in Washington, D.C. “It was an amazing experience to be with some of the people who made early and important marks on the jazz tradition. These are the people who maintain the light of jazz, and I felt honored just to be among them.”
He later performed with guitarist Carlos Santana and the Oakland East Bay Symphony for the world premiere of composer Michael Narada Walden’s The Enchanted Forest: Seven Higher Worlds of Music, and joined Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Cindy Blackman, Zakir Hussain, Dave Holland, and Carlos Santana at the all-star “Celebrating Peace” concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Numerous club, festival, and concert dates have followed.
Wilson is also receiving attention as a creative and effective voice teacher and coach. In addition to mentoring students in his private studio, he teaches and performs at conservatories in the U.S. and abroad, emphasizing a uniquely universal and accessible approach to vocal technique.
Whatever place Kalil Wilson calls home, whatever kind of music he’s singing on any given night—be it jazz, classical, R&B or some genre yet to be discovered and explored—he remains committed to shedding a light on the thread that holds it all together, not just for himself but for his audiences and for the music itself. “I have found in the end that jazz and classical music are really much more connected than they are disparate,” he says. If you’re being genuine with your own experience and your own approach to the music, you can find commonality in whatever genre you pick.”