Ahead of a re-release of Windows via the WeWantSounds label, here's Jack Wilkins talking about Window's genesis, how it paved the way for him to work with legendary drummer and bandleader Buddy Rich, and what it feels like to be sampled by golden-era hip-hop heroes A Tribe Called Quest.
In 1973, the jazz guitarist Jack Wilkins holed up in Record Plant Studios in New York City and recorded Windows, a six track album titled after a gently undulating cover of Chick Corea’s song of the same name. Assisted by the nuanced bass playing of Mike Moore and Bill Goodwin’s drum patterns, the trio’s session also included a take of Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay.” Twenty years later, A Tribe Called Quest repurposed the slinky, funk-infused opening section of Wilkins’s version of “Red Clay” into the backbone of “Sucka Nigga” from the hip-hop group’s beloved 1993 album Midnight Marauders. Even though Wilkins says Windows received a mixed critical reaction at its time of release, the sample flip gave the album a second life as a sought-after find on the vinyl crate digger’s circuit.
How did Windows come to be recorded?
It’s a process that started a long time before the release of the album. I was a working musician and used to play a lot and rehearse with a bass player friend of mine, Mike Moore, and we started to play some tunes I liked very much. Then my friend [the saxophonist] Paul Jeffrey called me to do his recording, Watershed on Mainstream Records, so I did that and Bob Shad, the owner of the record company, liked how I played and asked if I wanted to record a group of my own. So I brought in Mike and Bill Goodwin, the drummer. That’s how the record began.
Why did you pick Bill Goodwin to play drums on the album?
The fact is I’d never played with him before! But Mike liked him very much and I trusted him and it worked out very well. Bill was a good listener and adaptable at many situations and I thought he played great on that record.
What do you remember about recording the album at Record Plant Studios?
It was pretty echoey in there, but that didn’t seem to matter much because we played pretty softly. The sound was coming more from the board than the room, to be honest.
What sort of musical direction were you trying to take Windows in?
I didn’t have an out and out plan for it but I did want to get a cross section of what the current jazz tunes were. I didn’t want to go in there and play standards – I wanted to do something a little different, especially for a guitar player. “Pinocchio” and “Windows,” you didn’t hear guitar players doing those tunes. So there was some cross section of current jazz players, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter.
You also covered Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay.”
I loved the tune and it sort of reminds me of [Bobby Hebb’s] “Sunny” also, in fact it’s probably the same chord changes. It’s a fun tune, it’s a lot of fun to play it.
Two decades later, your version of “Red Clay” was sampled by A Tribe Called Quest on their Midnight Marauders album.
Yes, and I was surprised, but pleasantly surprised. I liked the album they made, it was all good and it was nice to get paid and they even gave me the credit on the album, which is unusual I think.
How did it feel to have your music reused by another artist?
I liked it. It gives my recording some nice verification, doesn’t it? I mean if you like it enough to sample it, I’m going to be pleased.
Back when you released Windows, what sort of reaction did it get?
It was mixed. Some people raved about it, some people hated it! It didn’t matter to me. If you like it, cool, but if not there’s nothing I can do about that.
What didn’t some people like about the album?
I don’t know but Downbeat gave it a pretty lousy review! They didn’t care for it one little bit. But some of the other reviews were great and my friends liked it, but they have to like it, right? But actually, the album started me on a whole lot of work, got me a whole lot of gigs, and got me playing with different people. The album got me the gig with Buddy Rich when I played with his small band. I knew Buddy’s manager and I ran into him on the street and I had a bunch of records with me and gave him one and he loved it and I started playing with Buddy. It’s funny how things work out.
How do you look back on the album now?
Every once in a while it comes up in conversation or somebody wants to hear some of it and I’m surprised how nice it holds it. Of course I’ve heard it so much that everything seems etched in stone on that record. That’s the way I hear it. I don’t know how Chick Corea felt about the way I recorded “Windows” but I loved the tune. A lot of guitar players were especially impressed with it because they couldn’t understand how I could negotiate a tune like “Windows” or “Pinnochio.” To me, they’re just standard tunes with a twist, like it’s not your common II-V-I patterns all the way through but there’s a beautiful harmony in that “Windows” tune and you can do a lot of stuff with it.
Jack Wilkins, Windows (We Want Sounds)