Pianist. Born 22 May 1980, Napier, New Zealand.

Wil who? Even our New Zealand list members may not recognize the name. Wil himself will be the first one to admit that he is largely unknown outside (and even inside) his own country.

I have hundreds of piano CD's in a huge variety of genres and styles, but Wil Sargisson's first CD, "Steppin' Out" is one that I keep returning to again and again. Recorded in January 1998, when he was only seventeen, it is a mix of the four styles that Wil is playing according to his website : jazz, blues, boogie woogie and stride. (Fats Waller is one of the three giants of the stride piano style ; the other two are James P. Johnson and Willie "The Lion" Smith.) The CD was independently released in April 1998 on the Finger Breaker Music label and apart from a couple of record shops in New Orleans, only a few copies made it to the rest of the world. Cees Klop of Collector Records (a piano nut like me) bumped into the CD somewhere in his travels and he immediately got in touch with Wil. He ordered about 30 copies of "Steppin' Out" for the Dutch/West European market and one of these ended up in my collection in 2001, thanks to Bert Louwerse, who still has copies in stock at his shop (Blues & Rock) in Rotterdam. For such a young player, his piano technique sounds amazingly mature and professional. As Wil admitted in a private mail to me, James Booker has been his main influence. "I first heard Booker's stuff on the album 'New Orleans Piano Wizard Live' in about 1992, when I was 12, and was quite intimidated by his technique and musical scope. I put the CD away for about 12 months, while I concentrated on Professor Longhair, Dr John and of course the great Boogie Woogie pianists from Chicago. Then in 1993 I pulled the CD out again and was able to appreciate it a lot more. And for the last decade I've been listening to Booker more than any other pianist. (...) Besides the boogie woogie material, the Booker stuff on the CD is probably the most competent due to the fact that I had spent more time studying his music than anyone else's."

There are several note-for-note copies of arrangements/tunes by Fats Waller and James Booker on the CD, but excellent copies at that. Wil: "There are a few tunes on 'Steppin' Out' where I shied away from attempting my own arrangement of a piece due to my relative youth and inexperience (at age 17) when compared to the pianists I was trying to emulate". However, Wil did his own arrangements of Jay McShann's "Hootie Blues" and - one of the highlights for me - Mac Rebennack's "Litanie des Saints", the closing track. Wil has been playing piano since he was five and planned a career as a piano player from a young age. He was the only non-American to be invited to play at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Piano Night in 1998 and was nominated for the New Zealand Music Awards that year. Furthermore, he has performed at the annual Montana Waiheke Island Jazz Festival in New Zealand for the past eight years. This festival is organized by Wil's American friend David Paquette, who lives on Waiheke Island for part of the year and who wrote the liner notes for "Steppin' Out". Together, Paquette and Sargisson recorded the CD "Waiheke Sessions" in 2000.

Two further Sargisson CD's, "Solo Piano, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2" were released in mid-2003, but unfortunately I have not (yet) heard these. Probably there is a greater accent on stride. Wil: "In January 1998 at the time of recording I was a newcomer to the world of Stride piano. I knew the music of James P. Johnson and the others, but never attempted to play it seriously. It wasn't until 1997 when I heard the German pianist Bernd Lhotsky in concert here in New Zealand that I decided to really try my hand at Stride. Now, some six years later I've made major improvements but still have a long way to go before I scale the heights that Waller, Johnson, Dick Hyman and Dick Wellstood achieved." A modest boy, our Wil.

Since January 2001 he has been working on cruise ships throughout the Caribbean, Alaska and Hawaii, on the Carnival Cruise Line, based in Los Angeles. Happy birthday, Wil, wherever you are right now.

Wil's website, http://wilpiano.orcon.net.nz/ does not contain too much information and is far from up-to-date.

More info on stride piano: http://stridepiano.com/

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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