May 20, 2014 - Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame Presents Memorial Day Salute to Vets: Produced by Joe Wilkinson


           Anyone who can produce a show like Monday's Salute To Veterans, featuring a large roster of vocalists and instrumentalists, deserves kudos for getting it all together and out onto the Jazz Depot stage. If that person is actually performing as well as producing, the feat is still more impressive.

            But if the producer-performer recently celebrated his 90th birthday, it's not just impressive – it's pretty much unparalleled.

            This year, pianist-vocalist-producer – and nonagenarian – Joe Wilkinson is once again at the helm for what has become a Jazz Depot tradition: the Salute to Veterans Memorial Day concert emphasizing patriotic and World War II-era music that's free to any member or former member of the United States Armed Services. And, as has been the case in the past, he'll also play some piano and sing a number or two – although, he says, he's going to keep the latter to a minimum this time around.

            “Our annual Memorial Day concert is a salute to our veterans, and a way to thank them for their service,” said Jason McIntosh, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO. “And everyone loves working with Joe—ninety years old and still going strong. It’s inspiring that this WWII vet is still producing and directing shows. He represents the Greatest Generation well.”        

            “Well, my voice is growing old, just like my body, and when I listen to it, I'm beginning not to be happy with what I hear,” explains Wilkinson. “So although I'm probably going to sing at least one tune, just for fun, I've got Darell Christopher doing what I did last year, which is `Kalamazoo' and `Chattanooga Choo Choo.'”

            Except for Jazz Depot favorite Christopher and singer Amanda Mansheim, the vocalists on the program were all aboard for last year's Salute to Veterans. They include Angie Cockrell, Larry Cochran, Pam Van Dyke Crosby, Emily Chappell, and Sue Warwick.

            “Amanda and I did some things together three or four years ago, and then she was expecting another child and it was time to get off the stage for a while,” notes Wilkinson. “After that, she had some throat problems. But she's back and running. In fact, she'll be singing on `Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.' We're going to do that with a trio of girls, kind of like the Andrews Sisters. Angie will handle the melody, Sue will do the alto work, and Amanda's doing the soprano part-- and she's an opera singer, so she'll get there.

            “I've got Emily, who sang `I'll Never Smile Again' last year, doing that one again, and I've also gotten her to do `Indian Summer.' Those are two of my all-time favorites.”

            Also returning from last year – in addition to emcee John Wooley, of Public Radio Tulsa's Swing on This program – are trumpeter Mike Bennett and bassist Jordan Hehl, joining new pianists Tim Shadley and Larry Mitchell, along with Wilkinson himself.

            “Tim will be our main piano man,” says Wilkinson. “His primary instrument is trombone, but he's taken a real hold on piano, and I mean he really works that sucker. Larry Mitchell worked with us at Guthrie Green last year, and he's a good pianist. He fits the bill real well. I'm probably going to do a minimum amount of playing, but I do have my favorites.

            “Mike Bennett is great to have, because you've got somebody carrying the load, you know,” he adds. “And he certainly can. He's the best.”

            Sue Warwick, says Wilkinson, is the person responsible for the group that's scheduled to begin this year's event.

            “We were kind of looking for a new approach for kicking the thing off, and Sue brought this to us. It's a group called the Talk of Tulsa, a chorus, and they've been very successful in competitions. There'll be at least 20 people up there singing the National Anthem in a cappella harmony, and it could be just outstanding.”

            Oklahoma Representatives Eric Proctor and Ken Walker, both of Tulsa, along with representatives of the Honor Flight program are expected to be on hand. The organization sends World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. for a tour – recently, in fact, Wilkinson himself took the trip.

            “It was really great. Whenever we'd come into a crowd, getting off at the airport and everything, there would be all these people standing there and saying, `Thank you so much for what you did.' I'm thinking, `Man, when I was a kid in the South Pacific, I didn't realize anybody was going to thank me for my service.' That's the last thing I expected,” he concludes with a laugh. 

            The Salute to Veterans is set to begin at 5:00 p.m. on Memorial Day – Monday, May 26 – at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street.

            Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. 

            All veterans of the Armed Services will be admitted for free.

            The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Spring Concert Series.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.