Look-Ka Py Py Podcast (ep 64): James Westfall, Picking Up on the Vibes

The Wee Trio (vibraphonist James Westfall, bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig) recently released its first live album, The Wee Trio Live at the Bistro. Recorded in Loomis’ native Saint Louis, the set encompasses cuts from the jazz trio’s three previous studio endeavors — including its most recent, Ashes to Ashes: A David Bowie Intraspective — introduces new numbers from each of its members and spices up a few jazz standards to boot. Yet, be it the Wee Trio’s origin, its instrumentation or its repertoire, there is nothing standard about this three-piece.

James Westfall, podcast, photo, mallets

For the New Orleans-based Westfall, his path to becoming a jazz vibraphonist begins in his hometown of Houston, TX, where he took to playing percussion in his middle school band but didn’t quite dig the drums. As his musical interest grew, Westfall began taking piano lesson. His teacher, Westfall soon discovered was also a jazz vibraphonist. Then, when in high school, Westfall received a free vibraphone that his grandfather happened to stumble upon. From there he went on to study jazz at the University of New Orleans. Later, he became the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute’s first vibraphone student. While living in Brooklyn, NY in 2005, Westfall met neighbors Loomis and Schonig. Together, these three aspiring jazz musicians formed the Wee Trio. The band wasted no time getting on the road and getting in the studio. And that’s just were the story starts getting good. Tune in below to hear how Westfall found his stride and how he manages to stay a foot playing an instrument that doesn’t exactly lend itself kindly to street parades or traditional jazz.