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"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview" Dave Wilkes
interview by Jonathan Widran

Dave WilkesJazzMonthly:When Jazz Monthly last interviewed music industry veteran David Wilkes, he was midway through his eight year tenure (2002-2010) as Vice President of A&R (Artists & Repertoire) at Koch Records (now known as E1 Music), whose roster included Ringo Starr, Joan Baez, Chris Brubeck, numerous country and hip-hop artists and contemporary jazz greats that Wilkes signed to the label. He brought to this position many years of experience in different genres, dating back to the mid-60s, when he managed The Bitter End Café in NYC and became the first manager of future stars Barry Manilow, Emmylou Harris and Jerry Jeff Walker. He later worked as a publisher for MCA Music and Sire Records and became President of A&R with Vanguard Records, whose roster included Joan Baez, Buffy St. Marie and Kinky Friedman.

In the mid 70s, Wilkes started his own management, publishing and production company and purchased The Coffee House Circuit which he had originally helped to set up while at The Bitter End Café. The Coffee House Circuit booked acts such as Harris, Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, John Denver and many other artists through a joint venture with the NEC (later NACA). His later endeavors included working at Mercury Records as VP of A&R and creating a joint label deal with Koch and Shanachie/Cache Records. 

JazzMonthly: What are the accomplishments at Koch Records that you are most proud of? Talk about some of the artists you signed and worked with there.

DW: I’m most proud of the fact that I took this label that had no true jazz history and gave them a presence in the contemporary jazz world. They distributed some jazz that came out on European labels, but part of my job was to sign established artists to their roster. I was most excited about the great dobro player Jerry Douglas, Sophie Milman, Earl Klugh, Bob James, Marcus Miller, Michael Franks, Oleta Adams, Bela Fleck and Steve Oliver. It’s pretty remarkable how many Grammy nominated artists I had the opportunity to sign. It was also exciting to see Jerry win three Grammys and be voted CMA Instrumentalist of the Year a few times during my time with the label. I wanted Koch to be a diverse label with artists I loved.

JazzMonthly: I understand you have worked with a lot of Canadian artists since leaving Koch.

DW: I left Koch/E1 after 11 combined years as a VP of A&R as well as a consultant and that allowed me to start working with Canadian artists who I greatly admire. I also admire their government support of the arts, which let me be able to consult for a fee, even unknown acts that I felt struck a chord in my psyche. I always wanted to work with artists I dug, as people as well as musical creators and this Canadian set-up with government support allowed them to hire me. I was the first American to sign Stan Rogers while I was with Vanguard Records in early 1970's. Stan became a great star in Canada and my early association made a lot of friends and fans for me up there as well. I didn't even know that until about 5 years ago when I was invited to do a few seminars up there...again for some of the provincial music conferences, and who knew I had so many friends north of the border.

JazzMonthly: You mentioned you have worked with 18 year old Canadian jazz artist Nikki Yanofsky, whose Phil Ramone produced debut Nikki went gold in Canada. In what capacity?

DW: I worked with Nikki since she was 13 or 14. Her dad hired me as a consultant for his management company, starting with her release of the live CD/DVD project Ella…Of Thee I Swing in Canada through Fontana distribution. I helped bring her band into the U.S. market and targeted venues across the U.S. for showcase performances, like Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center and Catalina’s Jazz Club in L.A. I invited all the label execs who got very excited and this resulted in Nikki’s signing with Decca. She also recorded the single “I Believe” for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which became a #1 pop hit in Canada. I’m involved these days to some degree with Nikki, but not as a full time consultant.


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