Grammy-nominated artist enjoys stopping by Odessa

Keyboardist Wally Minko performs at a concert on Jan. 18, 2023 at the Permian High School Auditorium. (Michael Bauer|Odessa American)

World-renowned musician Wally Minko has performed and toured all over the country throughout his career.

That includes the Odessa-Midland area in recent years.

Minko, who lives in Los Angeles, is a Grammy-nominated composer, conductor and keyboardist who has even recorded with pop stars such as Barry Manilow, Tom Jones and Deneice Williams, just to name a few.

Yet in the last year, he’s managed to stop by the Permian Basin to either perform for the West Texas Jazz Society’s “Bebop to Hip-Hop” concerts and Jazz Party as well as performing with the West Texas Symphony earlier this year.

His latest stop in the area was at last week’s 58th annual West Texas Jazz Party which took place at the Odessa Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

Minko performed in last Thursday’s opening night, performing alongside with saxophonist Gary Meek, bassists Ernest Tibbs and drummer David Zarlenga.

While he’s performed at different functions in West Texas, this year was his first time performing at the West Texas Jazz Party.

“It’s great,” Minko said. “This is the first time for us to be a part of this so that’s a lot of fun. It’s fun to get to do the kickoff event.”

Minko’s compositions and arrangements are commissioned frequently by some of the biggest stars in the business for their recordings including Jon Anderson, Arturo Sandoval, Gianmarco, Debbie Allen, Wayne Bergeron, Gary Grant and Dan Fornero.

He also produces countless works for jazz and choral ensembles.

Minko was nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement for “A Night in Tunisia” from Sandoval’s CD “Dear Diz” in 2013.

However, what he enjoys most about coming out to the Permian Basin is the people.

“The people are super nice,” Minko said. “Everyone is super hospitable. It’s a great place to be.”

He spends a lot of his time writing, when he’s not busy being on tour.

“I’ve been doing primarily writing lately but I’ve been on tour for years so when I’m on tour, I’m gone a lot,” Minko said. “Lot of airports and a lot of TSA. All the fun stuff.”

He admits the traveling aspect of his career is a little more hectic than when he was younger.

“It was a lot more fun when I was younger and unencumbered because once you have a wife and kids, you’d rather be home with them so it turns into more of a feeling of work than a feeling of a party,” Minko said. “Plus it was a lot more fun before TSA. Everything’s changed so much. It’s a lot more a hassle (traveling) but we do it for the music.”

When asked what he enjoys the most about jazz music, Minko simply said “the freedom”.

“I spent years as a classical pianist,” Minko said. “That’s how I grew up, studying classical piano. I just played what was on the page. But when you play jazz, it’s all creative. You have a basic framework and just elaborate from there. It’s an amazing feeling of freedom, you could say.”

Minko has also worked with R & B artists Pink, Toni Braxton, En Vogue, New Edition and Expose’ as well as jazz superstars Jean-Luc Ponty, Arturo Sandoval and Rock & Roll Hall-of-Famer Gregg Rolie of Santana and Journey.

“It’s great because all those artists are good,” Minko said. “Working with people that are great is easy. I’ve been very fortunate to work with a lot of great people. They were all nice people.”

While he’s enjoyed working with everyone, Minko said his favorite artists to work with were Ponty and Rolie.

“Jean-Luc was a fusion gig so that’s music at the highest level with the highest level of players,” Minko said. “Gregg was a rock ‘n’ roll gig so we ‘rocked’ and had fun.”

Minko was the special guest at the West Texas Symphony’s Pops and Family Series concert, which also included his jazz quartet, back in March at the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center.

“I just wrote a bunch of music for the (West Texas Symphony) which premiered in March so that was a whole new endeavor for me,” Minko said. “I’m doing a lot of writing for a lot of jazz bands across the country.”

He’s also performed at the West Texas Jazz Society’s “From Bebop to Hip-Hop” concerts that the organization regularly does in January.

While he hopes to come back to Odessa to perform, Minko said his summer plans will include working on different projects back in Los Angeles.

“That’s what I’ll be doing primarily this summer,” Minko said.