There’s still snow in the valleys of our mountain home and with winter still in full swing, it was nice to warm our bones recently at Café One 11 with The Bill Perkins Quintet.

This Johnson City bandleader and jazz guitarist is a melodic soloist and together with his band of notable players they colored this restaurant with a cosmopolitan ambience that’s hard to beat.

We had no trouble finding a seat in the front of this sophisticated Asian restaurant that is noted for martinis and sushi. The smell of clove cigarettes from Indonesia and the Brazilian music coming from the stage in the back helped us forget about the cold weather too. A dreamy Bohemian vibe inside helped transform this strip center venue into a slice of Rio de Janeiro.

In the early ’50, players like Dave Brubeck helped culture a style of jazz referred to as “cool jazz” – a mellow crossroads for bebop and smooth jazz. This new wave eventually influenced Brazilian artists and helped create a distinctive music called bossa nova. This tide of music mingled with the samba beats below the Equator to create a new style that is a catchword for “new beat.”

The signature bossa nova song is “The Girl from Ipanema” and that’s one of the first songs we heard on stage with Bill and his band.

Bill Perkins is a guitarist comfortable with any musical form. He performs with his hollow-body guitar held high on his chest and likes to get lost in his music too. His face seems to glow when he closes his eyes during a performance. His improvisations are lyrical, sophisticated and never seem to tire. There’s a lot of talent and raw endurance that go into the making a great jazz player and Bill has the goods to deliver a lot of style which include Wes Montgomery, George Benson and many great Brazilian guitarists.

There’s more to this band than a great guitarist, though. The Bill Perkins Quintet also features a union of entertaining artists that stand out in the local jazz community.

Sharing the stage with Bill this evening was David Champouillon on trumpet. David is an associate professor of music at ETSU and it’s easy to tell that he enjoys more than teaching, because he obviously loves to play his horn. I’m already a big fan of Miles Davis, so listening to David is a real treat because has a wonderful tone, years in the making. He plays seated in front of a fake book and executes inventive solos that are grounded in theory and risky with linear improvisation.

In addition to two fine soloists, the quintet also featured vocalist Candra Savage. She’s a student at ETSU and her voice, although still maturing, was charming and it’s hard not to smile when you hear her sing. Her voice is graceful and was the perfect compliment to the instrumentalists on stage, particularly during the band’s rendition of the great romantic classic “The Nearness of You.”

Every musician has a story about an old treasured instrument. Sam Burke, bassist for the Bill Perkin’s Quintet (and plenty of regional artists) was playing an old ’65 Fender Bass tonight. During the break, he was telling me about his original bass that was stolen and how he enjoyed playing this old instrument. His perfect execution and stoic style helped lay down a dependable pattern of bop, swing and samba that kept the music in motion for every set.

Chick Corea recently performed with The Foo Fighters at the 2004 Grammys. A lot of people may not recognize that name, but Chick is a jazz giant. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Bill and the band perform a song with Candra called “Five Hundred Miles High.” That’s a tune Chick wrote for the Return To Forever Band in the mid-’70s. I thought for a moment about how this song has never been played locally and that made me appreciate the band even more for pulling out such a rare musical relic.

There’s a lot of talent in this band, but the most entertaining facet of the Bill Perkins Quintet is their percussionist, José Castillo. A lot of drummers refuse to play anything other than a bass drum, a snare and a grab-bag full of instruments that you bang with a stick. Jose chooses a different setup and prefers to perform standing with a set of congas. He uses his fingers and the palms of his hands to create a pulse that is light and persuasive and the perfect complement to the flowing music that this band performs.

Next time you feel like experiencing some of the finer points of live music, spend an evening with The Bill Perkins Quintet. They usually perform with the same lineup, but you never know who you might see. Whoever is on the stage, you’ll appreciate the ambience that Bill and the band bring to audiences in the Tri-Cities.

On a final note, be sure to keep an eye out for the Tri-Cities Jazz Festival coming up in April at MeadowView. This weekend long event will be produced along with ETSU and Champouillon and is an important cultural statement for students in our region.

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Relevant Link:

  • Bill Perkins photos at Cafe One 11
  • Bill Perkins Performance Video
  • Jose Castillo Video

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    David Cate is director of new media for the GoTriCities Network. E-mail tips for The Buzz or comments to him at