George Whitesell & His All Stars Featuring Jill Watkins
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George Whitesell & His All Stars Featuring Jill Watkins

Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States | INDIE

Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States | INDIE
Band Blues Jazz


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"Estes Park Jazz Festival is Top Notch"

Estes Park Jazz Fest is Top Notch

Max Wagner has once again proved to be a great producer in putting on the Estes Park Jazz Fest (in conjunction with the Art Walk). He gives attendees at the free outdoor festival May 17 and 18 a good sampler of the one true American art form: jazz music in many of its varieties.

Saturday started off with the cool trad tones of the Estes Park Big Band and man, it swung.

Next up were Brad Goode and the Ken Walker Trio, shaking it up with some modern in amongst the swinging melodies.

For a traddie like me, some of it was a little out there, but hey, you've gotta keep your ears open and let the music in.

The Air Force Falconaires played tight trad and swing, jazz with acumen and the vocals were gritty and sweet.

Topping off the day with panache were George Whitesell and His All-Stars with Jill Watkins performing largely jump and blues to rattle the rocky surrounds.

Watkins can sing it like nobody can, with outstanding projection and a whole lotta soul.

Anybody who didn't have a good time listening to George's crew has no-one to blame but themself.


"George Whitesell & His All Stars by Dan Demuth"

There was a time in this country following WWII when people sought out danceable live entertainment at small clubs, commonly referred to as ‘rib’ or ‘juke’ joints, either located in urban areas or outside of town in “roadhouses”. Physical traces of these can occasionally be found, but, save for recorded music; the jumping sounds that could be heard within are now almost extinct in a live format. The music which came to be known as jump blues or more generically rhythm and blues was an amalgamation of post-war blues played in a swinging tempo, boogie woogie and swing. More often than not, except for hip whites the musicians were black, enjoying a new-found amount of creationary freedom; a product of the war itself and some integrated entertainment venues from the prior decade. Mirroring the end of the war, the sounds evoked good times, sometimes with humor, but always pulling the dancers to the floor. As all popular music eventually does, the sounds evolved, principally to rock and roll (which dumped the blues but kept the rhythm). And eventually, the pureness and the originality got lost.

Enter George Whitesell and his dream band, the “All Stars”. Monday nights are traditionally one of the slower nights for a live venue anywhere, but this was not the case at Classics. The full house ranged from barely legal to those old enough to remember the era mentioned above. And, to paraphrase an oft used line in jump music, “this joint was jumpin’.” Peruse the crowd and one noted many confirmed jazzers as well as blues people (funny how that works out with this type of music!) and all were having a good time. The band features George on vocals, guitar and alto sax. The sax section also includes Kenny Johnston and Brad Eastin on tenors – Brad also handling the arrangements, and Chris Wojtecki on bari. Yeah – that’s four! The rhythm section is ably filled out with John Stilwagen on keyboards, Santi Guarnera on bass and drummer Dave Deason driving this bus. Tough to pick a favorite here.

Whitesell has an immense well from which to pull music of that period of the late 1940’s thru the early 1950’s – some of which enjoyed brief re-creations in the ensuing years – and for his first session he chose wisely. The sax sections honking sounds reminiscent of Big Jay McNeely, Joe Houston, or Little Richard’s band, The Upsetters. Brad Eastin’s trademark incredible solos, Chris Wojtecki getting sounds from a bari that should only be legal on a tenor, Kenny Johnston blowing the house down. Ooh! My Soul! John Stilwagen’s precise imaging of Pete Johnson’s backing on the Big Joe Turner numbers, with the rest of the rhythm section nicely driving but never overpowering the song’s intent. And, George providing his excellent vocal and guitar work and keeping the selections in sync with just enough historical banter of the song’s origin in between. To add some dessert to this already excellent mix, blues-based vocalist Jill Watkins from up Boulder way, graced the stage for two numbers. In a word, wow! Her promo describes her powerful voice, playfulness and personality. It should add pulchritude. If you weren’t there, you were not only square, but possibly trapezoidal. George Whitesell & His All Stars provide a righteous and riotous ride through the rarely tapped world of jump and rhythm & blues, long overdue on the entertainment scene. I wish them many happy returns.
- Pikes Peak Blues Community

"An Extraordinary Birthday Party, George Whitesell’s 60th Was a Serious Bash, by Jim Primock"

Part-time musician, part-time Santa, and full-time good guy, George Whitesell celebrated his 60th birthday in style with help from wife Amy, the owners of Classics, a bunch of talented musicians and a room full of friends and family. The party, held Monday June 5, was also the debut of a new band: George Whitesell & His All Stars. I’ve known George through Metro Blues, the band he has worked with for several years in the Colorado Springs area. Although Metro Blues is still happening, the All Stars represent the fulfillment of a dream: a big band of top-notch performers doing classics and originals and featuring a knock-out female vocalist—who turns out to be Jill Watkins.

George told me that he has wanted to start this project for many years but he didn’t get serious about it until about 5 years ago. I asked him for a brief history of the project.

“A couple of summers ago I talked to Brad Eastin because I needed somebody to arrange the horns. He loved the idea and agreed to do it. So we just needed to find the players. Chris Wojtecki, I had known for a number of years and I asked him if he would be the baritone player. As it progressed on, I just started hand picking some of the people I thought would be most suited for this type of endeavor.”

Once the musicians had committed and rehearsals began, George realized that the best way to introduce the band would be with a big show on a Monday night (so that others in the music business would be able to attend). While considering when to hold the concert he realized that, (with his 60th birthday falling on a Monday) and instantly knew that had to be date. He and Amy began planning a party that had well over 100 guests. There was a buffet supper and the entertainment was fabulous.

This is a blues/R&B/jump/swing show band—its members are not only excellent players but also enthusiastic performers—and they did, indeed, put on a show. At one point the audience was treated to synchonized marching/dancing/table hopping, which got a huge cheer.

George had mentioned the idea to Jill a couple of years ago and she liked it but didn’t know if it would happen. Then last fall, George sent an email stating: “Alright, I’m doing it. That’s it, and I have watched you, Jill, developing your character and your persona, and that’s exactly who I want on stage. You are exactly tailor made for this.” Jill says she likes the idea of an allstar band, “that everyone has their own band, is such a cool concept to me. So he threw it out there and said, ‘are you in?’ and I didn’t bat an eye—oh, absolutely. I’m just flattered as hell that he even thought about me, let alone that I was asked to do it.”

It wasn’t until the second set that Jill was brought up to sing. We sat together during dinner and she was very excited about being involved with the All Stars. I asked her how it felt to be handed the keys to the candy store and was rewarded with a brilliant smile and a laugh. She later told me of her experience on stage that night: “Like getting your hands on a Ferrari. I was also in awe of all the different players around me. Each one had their own solo, and from one solo to the next it was just one monster performer after another. When they wanted me to come back in [for the vocal], I was like, well, OK, if you like that sort of thing. It was an incredible feeling.”

This new association does not mean the end of the Jill Watkins Band, nor does it mean the end of Metro Blues—both bands will continue to work. This is another project for all involved, one that allows some stretching out in a different direction while taking on new and welcome challenges.
I recommend that you see George Whitesell & His All Stars when you get the chance. I guarantee that you will have a good time.
- The Holler, Colorado Blues Society

"Review of Valentine's show - 2009"

Although jazz is again on the decline in the Pikes Peak region, if one looks around, there is jazz to be heard. One example happened on Valentine’s Day.

A new venue opened in our community, or rather, an old venue that has been recycled into a fine performance arena. Some of you have been around long enough to remember when there was a movie theater across Pikes Peak Avenue from the old Montgomery Ward store. It has since been a performance venue, another movie theater, a church, and now again, a performance venue. Called the Stargazer Theater, someone has put a lot of money into refurbishing it and has produced a very nice venue for music, theater, meetings, receptions and other activities.

One of the first acts to perform there was George Whitesell and the All-Stars on Valentine’s Day evening for a dinner and dance. Most local jazz fans are familiar with the Whitesell group, which now has a reputation of being a blues band. Actually it is more then that. It is more of what we used to call, in my youth (so long ago) a “Jump band.” They play a very high-energy form of music, mainly based on the blues chord changes, but far more “up” than most blues bands. Think back to the Louis Jordan, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Tab Smith and others from the forties and fifties who were the precursors of the “Rhythm and Blues” and early ‘rock and roll’ bands. George’s band has much the same quality of humor. High energy and swing of that era.

The band is led by George on guitar, Brad Eastin and Marty Sarlette on tenors, Chris Wojtecki on bari sax with a rhythm section consisting of Tim Zahn on piano, Santi Guarnera, bass, and Dave Deason on drums. Brad does most of the charts, and they really jump! And then there’s the vocalist! Jill Watkins is the icing on the cake. More laid back the the “Smith Girls” of early blues, and more in style of, say, Alberta Hunter-sassy, mildly double entendre, and rollicking. Even after the energetic performance of the band, she brought the house down each time she came on stage. If you want to get your heart rate up and your juices flowing, go to a George Whitesell All-Star band performance!

A substantial audience came, enjoyed the program and mostly stayed until the last note died away, obviously satisfied with their choice of Valentine’s Day entertainment.

By Bob Simon
Founder, Pikes Peak Jazz & Swing Society
- Pikes Peak Jazz & Swing Society

""Rocked the House""

As always, George Whitesell and his All Stars, featuring Jill Watkins, once again proved why they are one of the premier bands in Colorado. They performed at the Greeley Blues Jam festival on June 13th and rocked the house! Offering something for everyone-- horns, vocals, guitar, swing, blues--they can do it all!! And with extra style and showmanship!

- Pam Bricker, Chairperson Greeley Blues Jam

"LIVE REVIEW: Whitesell turns Castaways into All Stars party"

George Whitesell & His All Stars featuring Jill Watkins, Castaways, 2/13/2010

Those “of a certain age” remember a style of music from the late 50’s or early 60’s that was neither rock and roll or jazz, but combined elements of both in many dance bands around the country. This kind of music had a swing vibe to it with blues and R&B undertones. It has been called swing blues, jump, and “party blues,” and although the music defies being squeezed into one nice classification, when you hear it, you get it, and you smile! The music immediately whisks you back to a great moment of history where styles of music were colliding and melding, some spinning off into their own directions. It’s fun danceable music, and when put into the hands of the right musicians like George Whitesell & His All Stars has a way of drawing you in and holding your attention.

George Whitesell formed the All Stars in 2006 and despite a schedule of jazz festivals, corporate gigs and parties, and opening for larger more well known national acts, one of the yearly features the band participates in is a Valentines day show and dance which was held Saturday at Castaways in Manitou Springs. Castaways has this whole Vegas lounge feel to it and is the perfect venue for this kind of show. The attendees at Saturday nights show were biased to the mature, but there were plenty of younger music fans there also taking it all in and enjoying the music and repartee between band and audience and reacting to the fun of the band members themselves.

Warming up with “Sidewinder” by Lee Morgan followed by “Topsy” originally by Cozy Cole, the band started drawing dancers to the dance floor, but when they hit “Watts Local” by Royal Crown Revue this got a few more people up out of their seats. The first of several slow songs of the evening was a seductive jazzy number by George Whitesell, “Fall All Over Again”. A big rhythm and blues fanfare opening introduced chanteuse Jill Watkins onto the stage leading into the up-tempo “Tell Mama” followed by the 1956 smoldering classic “Fever”, both of which are performed on the CD “Skat” (2007, Circle 504 Records) available from (among other places) at .

The night rolled on with fast and slow tunes featuring expert musical breaks by each member of the band. Songs like “Kidney Stew”, “Stormy Monday”, “Someone Else is Steppin’ In”, “Steamroller Blues”, “Natural Ball”, “Night Time Is The Right Time”, and “Papas Got A Brand New Bag” packed the dance floor. Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Saffire The Uppity Blues Women, and even James Brown were all channeled here tonight!

Admittedly to “do it right” this kind of music has to have a little showmanship to it. Jill Watkins – who’s style invokes Peggy Lee and late Irma Thomas – threw in a little Eartha Kitt friskyness to her presentation that was fun to watch while getting the audience drawn into the whole scene. The horn section did their part with synchronized dance moves and hand jives, and George was as animated as they get including knowing when to have some cornball interactions on vocal breaks with Ms. Watkins, and knowing when to play it straight. Also, there’s not many male vocalists that can top Whitesell’s own brand of “scat” vocal improvisation based on random syllables syncopated against the band.

Sitting in for the last several numbers was jazz guitarist Wayne Wilkinson laying down Joe Pass-like riffs giving Whitesell time to provide vocals both solo and with Watkins.

The band closed out the night with Eddie Vinson’s “Wait A Minute Baby (Hold It Right There)” featuring a call and response with the audience that was just a little bit cheese-ball but great fun! Watkins appeared playing horn and Whitesell strapped on a sax during the final number and all 5 of the horn players walked off the stage separating throughout the audience in what was the coolest audience interaction I’ve seen in a long time. All in all a fun show performed by some of the area’s best jazz musicians “bringing it home” to an appreciative audience.

You can catch George Whitesell & His All Stars May 8th at the Antlers Hotel for a Junior Achievement Fund Raiser.
- Colorado Springs Gazette--REVIEW BY BUTCH LEITZ

"The reviews are still coming in"

Colorado’s George Whitesell & His All Stars Featuring Jill Watkins turn a jump blues configuration to good advantage --- especially on the smoking title track to Skat (Circle 504 Records 0701) --- balancing Whitesell’s guitar with frequent solo’s from saxists Brad Eastin, Kenny Johnston, and Chris Wojtecki, and rounding out the sound with John Stilwagen’s strong piano. Covering “Fannie Mae” and drawing on lesser-known tunes from the likes of Little Richard was a smart move. Whitesell is no match for Big Joe turner on three covers from his catalog, but Watkins acquits herself admirably on “Fever”, “Why Don’t you Do Right?” and “Tell Mama”. Bob Margolin contributes wonderfully wobbly slide guitar to Sugar Pie Desanto’s “I Want To Know”.

- Blues Review-The World's Blues Magazine

"Five Star Review!"

George Whitesell has been a mainstay on the Colorado Blues scene for quite some time. His dedication to the blues as a musical art form has been reflected in both performance and recordings. “All Stars” is appropriate as George has assembled a stellar lineup of musicians. “Skat” reflects a true professionalism on the part of all the musicians involved in this project and it rivals nationally released material. The band presents a fully rounded sound throughout the entire recording. It is very apparent that these artists not only know how to play but have a solid feeling for the way Blues should be played—with feeling! Whitesell provides some great guitar work and handles some of the vocals. A powerful horn section of two tenors and a baritone sax help by delivering well-rounded drive and punch missing on many contemporary recordings. John Stilwagen is a great keyboard player showing great perfection as an artist. A solid bottom end is prevalent throughout as well, and Jill Watkins’ prowess as a vocalist is exceptional—she truly is a diva, showing that she really knows how to sing Blues. She brings new vision to her performance on these recordings.
Ken Saydak—musician, writer, singer and producer—has been a major part of the Chicago Blues scene for years, having worked with such notables as Lonnie Brooks and Johnny Winter as well as many other notable Blues Musicians. Ken was brought in as producer for the project. Saydak also has his own fine releases as an artist. His experience and understanding of the way the Blues should be played and heard---along with Whitesell and the band’s vision---help take this recording to a higher plateau. Saydak also sat down at the piano for a guest spot on one track. Guest artist Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin also lends his guitar prowess on three tracks.

The songs performed on this fine recording are all covers of well know (and not so well known) material originally recorded by some top-notch Blues and R&B artists. This in no way means the band is imitating the original recordings. Rather, they present fresh, new and exciting arrangements with a unique approach to already existing songs.

“Skat” is well layered and features exemplary musicianship and extremely high production content: a five star recording. These recordings show that Blues, swing and R&B can still be presented in an authentic and exciting way and are not dead or vague covers like so many of the releases that turn up these days. The overall professionalism on this release definitely make it a fine recording and one that can be listened to and enjoyed for a very long time. Whitesell and his group can put a feather in their caps for this one.

- Brian Elliott Holler-Colorado Blues Society



George Whitesell & His All Stars featuring Jill Watkins

(Circle 504 Records)

By Dan DeMuth

It is apt that the title track originated with Canned Heat back in 1970, as canned heat is what emanates from this album. George was proud as a new papa (and rightly so) at the recent CD release party at the Coffee Exchange in Colorado Springs. An added touch was the live internet broadcast on A World Of Blues with host "Chophouse", at which time George reiterated the focus is not to be a band that plays covers, but to hopefully introduce a new audience to the music so seminal to the current blues scene. It's been about a year since George put this group together for their first foray into the largely untapped world of what is basically original jump R & B. A major proponent of this music was of course Big Joe Turner and the All Stars have mined three gems from his early fifties efforts – The Chicken and The Hawk, Hide & Seek and Oke She Moke She Pop. Just as Turner was backed by a combination of jazzmen and blues players on much of his prolific output not surprisingly this is what we hear with the All Stars. The horn section - comprised of Chris Wojtecki on Bari and Kenny Johnston and Brad Eastin on Tenor – are known primarily for their jazz efforts with various groups. The well phased alternating styles of the two Tenors throughout, offset by the unctuous and sometimes honking Bari keep the wheels greased. The other side of the aisle – the rhythm section that drives this bus – is probably more rooted in the blues idiom. Drummer Dave Deason, bassist Santi Guarnera and jumpin' John Stillwagen on keyboards (showcased on "I Wonder" and "Oke") can swing gently or provide frenetic kinetics when needed. Leader Whitesell has of course been associated with blues bands for years, but this man do know his rock n' roll. And what of vocalist Jill Watkins? She has a great range, doesn't require mannerisms or vocal tricks and is at ease with what she does. She revisits two Peggy Lee standards which demonstrate her versatility, the ultimate male putdown Why Don't You Do Right? And the smoky, sultry Fever. But again, these are not covers; in fact her version of the latter might be closer to the original by Little Willie John. Jill purrs (or growls) her best on Tell Mama, of which I've heard Etta James do in person and Jill doesn't need to take a back seat here. Ken Saydak, blues pianist and protagonist extraordinaire, produced the CD and backs Jill on the raucous I'm Tore Down. Also guesting on three cuts is steady rollin' Bob Margolin. He's there on two rockers, Little Richard's Baby , Buster Brown's Fannie Mae and the 1960 Sugar Pie DeSanto hit I Want To Know, Ms DeSanto coincidentally being a cousin of Etta James.

So where do we go from here? This group has certainly raised the bar for other local groups, especially for a first release. Whitesell is generous in his praise of the band's teamwork and the arranging talents of Brad Eastin. Recorded and produced locally at Green Mountain studios, the mix and sound quality are excellent. In the liner notes Saydak pays tribute to the band, "….I would stack up against any I have ever heard (even in the studios of Chicago)." There is a ton of this type of music to plumb as some of the better efforts were never well known - appearing on obscure labels without budgets for national promotion or distribution, something that raises the question of where this release could go with that luxury. One thing is for sure, if this album can't get your mojo workin' you might as well hang it up, dry it out and give it to the Salvation Army.
- Dan DeMuth

"Another Great Review"

George Whitesell & His All Stars featuring Jill Watkins: Skat (Circle 504 Records, 2007).

Get ready for the most accomplished horn-dominated jump blues/R&B band on the Colorado blues scene, as 60-year old George Whitesell & His All Stars featuring Jill Watkins take you back to those glorious days of the traveling rhythm and blues circuit tours that were all the rage in the late‘40s and early‘50s. This is R&B-influenced jump and party blues of the highest order, as Whitesell (weaned on the likes of Big Joe Turner, Little Richard, Roy Brown, Johnny Otis, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and others) put together this ensemble of Colorado’s finest blues and jazz musicians including, Chris Wojtecki on Bari, Kenny Johnston and Brad Eastin on Tenor sax, Dave Deason on drums, Santi Guarnera on bass and jumpin' John Stillwagen handling the keys. Produced by well-known Chicago Blues pianist Ken Saydak, Skat contains 12 classics that features one of the finest horn and rhythm sections that I’ve heard in quite some time and they’re white hot throughout this fine album.

Whitesell’s an accomplished singer who can pull off classics like Big Joe Turner’s “The Chicken and the Hawk,” “Hide and Seek,” and “Oke She Moke She Pop” with absolute conviction and ease. Check out his scat singing on the title track. This accomplished veteran knows how to deliver the goods. Featured vocalist Jill Watkins reveals herself to be an exceptional singer, sassy and sly but with a welcome tendency toward restraint. She's also got a keen eye for songs, investing the old Peggy Lee standard "Why Don’t You Do Right" with enough relish to make it sound fresh and turning Little Willie John’s “Fever” into a sultry, after hours delight. From the rollicking boogie-woogie of Little Richard’s "Baby” and Chas & Dave’s “I Wonder In Whose Arms”(featuring a great piano solo from Stillwagen) to Buster Brown’s "Fannie Mae,” and a brilliant cover of Freddy King’s I’m Tore Down” that ironically finds Watkins tearing it up, this is an unpretentious, timeless-sounding set. Whitesell displays some fine guitar work throughout and his short succinct solos stab between the horns and vocals. Former Muddy Waters Band guitarist Bob Margolin guests on three cuts, “Baby,” “Fannie Mae” and the 1960 Sugar Pie DeSanto hit “I Want To Know,” displaying a refreshing side to his playing, and he’s in top form here.

Overall, Skat is a disc with enough exciting moments to interest blues and jazz fans alike. It’s creative, fun, and thoroughly entertaining. Longtime R&B and jump blues fans will gobble this up. The music is accessible, jumping, and swinging with passion and precision throughout. Don’t miss it. (RL)

- Supporting the Blues (online music review site)

""A Fantastic Show" 5-8-2010"

"I would like to thank you once again for putting on a fantastic show at our 17th Annual Junior Achievement Gala Auction. It was a huge success! You really did a great job firing up the guests and getting them engaged! I heard several compliments during the night and have received numerous emails reporting how awesome the band was!!! One even said that as far as they were concerned you guys should be the entertainment every year! Kudos to you and the band and Jill! We really appreciate your support of Junior Achievement and participation this past year. Thanks again!"

- Pennie Immel, Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado, Inc.

"A Fantastic Show - 5-8-10"

"I would like to thank you once again for putting on a fantastic show at our 17th Annual Junior Achievement Gala Auction. It was a huge success! You really did a great job firing up the guests and getting them engaged! I heard several compliments during the night and have received numerous emails reporting how awesome the band was!!! One even said that as far as they were concerned you guys should be the entertainment every year! Kudos to you and the band and Jill! We really appreciate your support of Junior Achievement and participation this past year. Thanks again!"

- Pennie Immel, Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado, Inc.


Circle 504 Records
July 2007



Since forming in 2006, George Whitesell & His All Stars featuring Jill Watkins have been in high demand at Jazz Festivals, Blues Festivals and Summer concerts in the many beautiful parks throughout Colorado. Their high energy show usually ends with a standing ovation wherever they perform. Highlights have been; opening for the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra in Beaver Creek, the Inaugural Ball for President Obama at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Glenn Miller Ballroom, Trinidaddio Blues Festival, Greeley Blues Fest, Keystone Wine and Jazz Festival, Estes Park Jazz Festival, Blues Under the Bridge and many, many more.

Please spend a few minutes reading the "Press" section to see what others have to say, listen to our music and watch a video. Thank you.

All of our past performances are listed in the calendar section.