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Meet Tal Wilkenfeld, Jeff Beck’s Young Aussie Bass Prodigy

Jerry McCulley
|
07.02.2008
The questions really began soon after Eric Clapton’s 2007 Crossroads Festival aired on PBS. Emails crisscrossed the world as music fans attempted to identify the impossibly young-looking woman laying down the sinewy bass lines for mercurial English guitar god Jeff Beck. She even took a memorable solo turn on Beck’s Blow by Blow classic, “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers!” Some speculated she was Beck’s daughter, while one writer insisted she couldn’t be more than 14?“Who’s that girl?”

The usual guitar and musician blogs were also soon abuzz about the fresh-faced young woman who seemed to have come out of nowhere to share the spotlight at Chicago’s Crossroads Festival with an ax legend whose previous bass players had included such notables as Stanley Clarke and Pino Palladino. Her presence was especially remarkable considering how often Beck has chosen to play in a trio format (with drummer Terry Bozzio and keyboardist Tony Hymas) in recent years, eschewing a bass player altogether. This past March Wilkenfeld’s rapidly rising public profile even prompted the readers of Bass Player magazine to vote Tal the Year’s Most Exciting New Player.

The Crossroads broadcast woefully neglected to list any individual band member credits, which only deepened the mysterysurrounding the identity of the young bass wiz. Rest assured that despite her fresh schoolgirl looks, Sydney-born Tal Wilkenfeld is an adult (most bios list her birthday as circa 1986)?merely a third Jeff’s age, rather than a quarter!?yet a musician whose resume already includes working with a stylistically far-ranging roster of veterans that includes Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Steve Vai, and the Allman Brothers.

All this from a young musical prodigy who’s been playing the bass less than five years? she took up guitar at 14 in her native Sydney, before switching over to the electric bass just three years later. “I’ve always just picked up any instrument and been able to play it?I could sit down at the drums or the piano and just play for fun,” Tal says of her musical gifts. “But as soon as I started playing bass I knew it was my instrument. It was like, ‘Yes this is it. I don’t even want to play guitar anymore, this is amazing.’”

 


Dropping out of high school?she says formal education “just wasn’t going to work for me”?to pursue music fulltime, she relocated to America at 18, spending considerable time turning heads in New York City before making Los Angeles her base. Along the way New York-based independent guitar and bass designer/manufacturer Roger Sadowsky heard her playing and promptly offered Tal an endorsement deal, another remarkable accomplishment for a musician whose career has barely begun. By 20 she’d become variously a band leader and in-demand session/live player who’d gigged with the Allman Brothers and recorded Transformation, a well-received debut solo album she cut in two days of hectic NYC sessions, recordings which she also composed and arranged. At 21 she was touring Australia with Chick Corea, who she says “had heard about me and was looking for a bass player and so I sent them some of my stuff. Then I got this call from his people and they said: ‘Hey, do you want to do these gigs in Australia?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, sir!’”

Within months of the Corea gigs she was on the road in Europe as part of Jeff Beck’s band. Shortly after her widely seen Crossroads gig with Beck, the young Aussie phenom also found herself backing both Jeff and fellow guitar god/Yardbirds alum Eric Clapton during a multi-night stand at Ronnie Scott’s legendary London jazz club.

Here’s a profile of Tal from Australian television and a 2006 bass clinic video showcasing her remarkable playing.

Tal Wilkenfeld



 
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