You won’t hear "Jingle Bell Rock" blasting through Katrina-Kasey Wheeler’s speakers as the days count down to Christmas. Instead, holiday tunes from jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi and trumpeter Chris Botti serenade visitors to her central Tracy home.
No matter the time of year or the time of day, jazz is her music of choice.
"I’m kind of biased," Wheeler admitted. "When you go out to a jazz club, you’re really witnessing the best kind of live art form that there is."
Jazz isn’t only her source of entertainment, Wheeler said. It’s what she thinks, writes and dreams about.
Music has been a part of her family since she was small. Her older brother plays percussion, and her mother, Norma Wheeler, sang in a jazz band in the late 1960s.
Katrina-Kasey Wheeler plays some piano but says she’s always known writing was her form of expression. Her elementary teachers raved about the short stories she’d weave, her mother said.
Wheeler melded her passions for jazz and writing about 1½ years ago when she submitted a music review to online magazine "All about Jazz" and was soon hired as a regular contributor.
"People are so focused on just a few genres, and I wanted to make it known that there’s so much more out there," Wheeler said. "I didn’t feel that there were enough positive reviews about jazz."
The freelance writer has gained a reputation among jazz musicians for her unique interview questions and objective reviews. She’s received calls from representatives of big-name musicians, such as jazz bassist Avishai Cohen, requesting that she review their music.
Norma Wheeler, who often tags along on interviews, said her daughter’s aptitude for reviewing creates a connection between musicians and readers.
"I think it’s a gift," she said. "She writes about music from the soul."
Our Town: Who are the most famous jazz musicians you’ve interviewed?
Katrina-Kasey Wheeler: I have been fortunate to interview so many. The list includes vocalists Jamie Cullum, Dave Koz, Patti Austin and Claire Martin; trumpeter Chris Botti; bassists Christian McBride and Avishai Cohen; pianist and original member of the Miles Davis Quintet, McCoy Tyner; guitarist Marc Antoine; and pianists Jeff Lorber and Keiko Matsui. The list goes on.
OT: Who is the most famous musician you’ve interviewed outside of the jazz genre?
Wheeler: That would be Andrea Bocelli. Not only is he a famous tenor, but he really has achieved international superstardom. Quite honestly, it doesn’t get any bigger than Andrea Bocelli.
I interviewed vocalist Paula Cole last week. Many people from my generation may know her for the theme song, "I Don’t Want to Wait," from the WB’s hit series "Dawson’s Creek." She is a brilliant talent. Her most recent release, "Courage," employs some outstanding musicians, including the legendary pianist Herbie Hancock and visionary producer David Foster.
OT: How do you overcome the jitters when you’re talking to these celebrated musicians?
Wheeler: I really don’t have the jitters when speaking to them. I’m not star-struck. They are all such leading lights in the business. It is an honor to speak with them and gather their insights on their music. I have been very fortunate to interview such famous stars so early on in my career. They have all been a pleasure to work with, and I have developed some great friendships.
OT: Did growing up in Tracy make a difference in your career path?
Wheeler: I was born on the East Coast just outside Boston, so there were many opportunities for me to attend cultural events with my parents. I was exposed to the cultural offerings of Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. I traveled extensively as a child, and that fostered my knowledge and appreciation of the arts.
Having been raised for the latter part of my childhood in Tracy, my love for the arts did not diminish, despite its limitations. If anything, my love for music became even greater, and I realized that entertainment was the career path that I wanted to follow.
Small-town America has its advantages and disadvantages, but for my career objectives, it is imperative that I live either in Los Angeles or New York City.
OT: Where do you see your professional life in five years?
Wheeler: I have an interest in public relations and artist repertoire, specifically in the music industry, which can also lead to other forms of artistic expression. An artist repertoire scouts new talent. I think it’d be great to have a say in how to best market an artist and be involved in the creative side of the business.
•In the Spotlight is a weekly profile in Our Town. This week’s interviewer was reporter Danielle MacMurchy. To nominate someone to be In the Spotlight or to comment on this week’s column, call 830-4221, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.