by Hope Lopez

For such a young accomplished pianist in town, Darrius Willrich is genuinely a good guy. Hailing originally from Kansas, Darrius is pretty much a fixture in the Seattle music scene. I met Darrius years ago at a Hendrix party, back when he was doing stuff with the now defunct acid jazz group The Sharpshooters. Since then, Darrius has moved ahead and beyond, honing his jazz chops with new skills in the world of hip-hop with Source of Labor; improv jam sessions with Jumbalaya and Slow Ride; Omar Torrez; and his own projects: Plushsafe and Suite 7. When you talk with him, you're guaranteed that the conversation will be pleasant, relaxed and open. I meet Darrius Willrich at his place, apartment 7 (also known as Suite 7), a toothpaste blue building in Capitol Hill. Darrius' apartment captures the essence of a musician who lives, breathes and eats music. I'm amazed at the pretty high ceiling, the beautiful piano, the keyboards and the massive amount of equipment that surprisingly fits in this pad. I'm impressed with the great print of Thelonious Monk on the side wall and John Coltrane's lovely Blue Trane print as well. I'm diggin' this place.

Source of Labor--the band of Jasiri Music's Jonathan Moore (a.k.a. Wordsayer) and a band that Darrius performs with--just finished rehearsing in this space. Drummer Allen Matthews lingers and jokes around as Darrius plays some of the music that he just composed for local filmmaker Maliki Isasis' The Beautiful Ones. We get hungry and decide to conduct the interview at The Kingfish Caf. Grubbin' on some gourmet soul food and talking about music sounds good to the both of us. It's midweek, so the usual two- to three-hour wait is cut to an hour max. Not bad. The food is worth it.

[ darrius willrich ]

I order the fried chicken and Darrius gets the stuffed pork chops with gravy. The food is off the hook and after Darrius's mock tirade over the food ends, "Oh my God, Oh my God; this is making me mad...the stuffing is so good...this is the way to go....mmmm! This is not right...this is ridiculous...yeah, this is not right. They're not to supposed to have food like this," I click the recorder on and let Darrius tell me what he's been up to.

When is Suite 7 playing again?

Darrius Willrich: Indefinitely. It's really a name that my friend Patrick came up with, because we were making all this music out of apartment number seven and really anything that comes out of there, you can say that Source of Labor sorta is Suite 7 is because that's where we rehearse and that's where we've written all the stuff for Source of Labor in my apartment--that's where all happens!

And your neighbors are fine with that?

Darrius: I've never got any complaints. I guess so, your stuff sounds good; if it sounded like shit, maybe there'd be some gripes. You're playing with Omar Torrez? You played with a lot of people in town?

Darrius: Well, I play with Source of Labor, Omar Torrez and that's really it. I mean, I play with Ray Willis but y'know, we have performances. Ray Willis' next performance is in June in L.A. That's hardly a commitment, after you learned the music; we've learned the set pretty much. Omar and Source of Labor are the only bands that we rehearse regularly. Friday nights, we never rehearse. Jumbalaya, we walk in and play. Sunday night with members of Maktub, I just walk in and play. My band, we don't rehearse nowadays...we don't rehearse.

When did you begin to play?

"When She Comes Again..." MP3

Darrius: I didn't play as a kid. I started when I was fifteen. A friend of mine played and I wanted to learn how to play because he played really good. Well, I thought he could play really good. I mean from my vantage point now, it wasn't that great but it was better than I could do then. Actually he's a great musician, don't get it twisted. He's a great musician but, uh, he played this song by Lionel Ritchie called "Jesus is Love" and I thought that it was really pretty and I had to learn how to play it and after that, I learned how to play period. And that was that. Chris Brooks is the guy that made me want to play. He played in church. That was when I was around twelve that I started wanting to play. I started at fifteen 'cuz that's when I got an instrument. Chris has shown me some stuff that I played on other people's keyboards. But I got a little tiny Casio keyboard from my uncle while I was visiting him in Minneapolis. He said, "You look like you have a musical ear." And he just gave it to me without me ever telling him I wanted it. So it was like divine intervention. And from that point that was it and I never looked back. I was fifteen Then, maybe. That next year, I got piano lessons.

Your sound has been compared to Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway; who would you say had more of an impact?

Darrius: More Stevie Wonder. Because Donny Hathaway, I really didn't hear him and I'm ashamed to say that. Within the last five or six years, someone told me that I gotta listened to this guy. And then I bought something and listened to him and like, "Well, damn..." [Laughs] He's definitely now an influence.

[ stevie wonder ]

What made you decide music was going to be your calling?

Darrius: I got a Bachelor of Music/Theater with an emphasis in jazz piano and that was that as far as formal training. Yeah, this is my real job. I used to be an accountant, don't get it twisted. Seattle Municipal Court. I used to work on the budget, I used to reconcile the records between the collection agencies and our records. Yeah, it all started in college. I went to Seattle University and I studied Accounting for awhile. I didn't get a degree in it. I studied it long enough to realize that I didn't want to do that forever. By that time I had racked up working the tax department in Nordstrom for a good while. The thing is, I didn't know...I just decided. I remember being at Seattle University. I always got good grades. I remember that exact moment because some finance book, doing some finance homework which was fine, y'know, and I realized that I don't ever want to see another business text again, ever again. so I finished up that quarter and I got my Humanities degree and went to Cornish. And shoot, I was practicing piano anyway. Y'know I'm going to do this no matter what else I'm going to be doing in life. I can already feel that; I just know that whatever I'm doing in life, I'm gonna be playing piano and why not go to school and study that.

Follow your bliss.

Darrius: That's what I did. It was ridiculous 'cuz you know I would finish up all my homework, even clean the house on Friday nights so that on Saturdays I could spend six to eight hours practicing piano. [Laughs] That was it and the next year I went to Cornish. I was scared to tell my mom. Mom took it in stride. Like she knew or something.

Tell me what happened with The Sharpshooters.

Darrius: I played with them for quite awhile. Their current keyboard player quit and Stuart called me up; I guess Stuart was the musical leader at the time. Stuart was the saxophone player and he just called me up. They fired me but I'm not surprised 'cuz that's how they work. It's like we're going to replace this guy for god knows what reasons and I watched them do it. In fact, Allen played with The Sharpshooters for awhile, replacing the guy in exactly the same way. Well, y'know, they just thought they didn't like the drummer at the time or they thought... And with me, I don't know... They just said I was committed elsewhere but they could've just told me that instead of saying, "Well, tonight's gig, you don't have to show up. We got someone who's going to do it." That night! Well, it was like, "Well dang, I'm sure you guys knew before this night." [Laughs] Oh well, and that's that.

"I Am Your Love" MP3

When did you start working on your solo effort [Darrius, DLW Music, 1998]?

Darrius: After The Sharpshooters, I was in the process of making my CD. Wow, I don't know what I was doing after The Sharpshooters. Well, I started appearing at Tula's regularly with a jazz trio which was originally supposed to be me, this young guy named Ryan Cross on bass and Allen Matthews. Allen Matthews' parents didn't want him playing in a jazz club; he comes from a heavy gospel background. And on opening night I had to get someone else. I played with Ronnie, another fine drummer, but after that Allen started playing with me at Tula's. Allen's off the hook, he's a talented musician. He can do all of it. He played with Omar Torrez before I did. That's how I got hooked up with Omar--'cuz Allen played with him first.

Tell me about the Tula's gig.

Darrius: The only reason I did that [the Tula's gig] was so my name would appear regularly in a place that had jazz all the time. So people would see my name in the papers, on the windows at Tula's. That was publicity. I would spend more money than I would ever make at Tula's. So it was a risk. And then we had this gig at the Baltic Room.

Okay, tell me about how the Baltic Room shows got started.

Darrius: We had this gig at the Baltic Room started by Blake...that was the beginning of gigs where we would come in unrehearsed and just play. That's where it started. In fact, I was weary the first night. I was like, "Who's playing?" And he was like, "Some guys who called me." I thought, "This is going to be stupid." It ended up being very, very fun and I wrote a lot of music that way. It was some of '98 and the first part of '99.

[ darrius giving it his all ]

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