Musician's `Sound:' inspired by brother

Playing in his brother's name

November 10, 2007|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun Reporter

Kevin Gift leads two musical lives.

A classical pianist since childhood, he's performed Mozart with an orchestra in Bolivia and improvisational jazz in upscale concerts in Baltimore.

But several years ago, Gift, 34, started tinkering with drum machines, turntables and other electronics to break the monotony of five-hour practice sessions. This small hobby grew into a side project - and later into another musical identity.

The music was unlike anything Gift had made before: original riffs looped like samples over acid jazz and trip-hop beats. Because the project was so different, he decided to give himself a new name: Wendel Patrick. Wendel was Gift's twin brother who died shortly after birth.

"When I actually put a name to it was when I really started to feel how important it must mean to me," Gift said. "It's tremendously important to me. I actually think the importance will only continue to grow."

Gift - a teacher at Loyola College's Fine Arts Department - amassed enough new material to compile an album, Sound:, which he released this year. Tonight, he will perform pieces from Sound: at the Turntable Club.

Since assuming the name Wendel Patrick for Sound:, Gift has explored Wendel's persona.

Sometimes he answers phone calls or writes e-mail as Wendel Patrick.

"I think, what would it have been like if I had a twin, if my twin was here?" he said. "Would it have affected how I make music? Would we both have made music?"

Born in Washington, Gift began playing the piano at age 3. His family moved to Venezuela soon after, where he reluctantly began taking classical lessons. When his instructor would approach him to play, he would shyly hide behind his mother. His instructor would have to coax him with candy to get him on the piano bench, he said.

"I wanted nothing to do with her until she gave me some incentive," he said.

By 6, Gift was performing in school recitals. He still has some videotapes of himself playing concerts then.

"Some of the things got to be pretty advanced for that age," he said. "It's a little bizarre to watch, because I'm so tiny but I'm playing a lot of pretty intricate stuff."

Gift moved back to the Washington area when he was 7 and would travel to Baltimore on weekends for ear-training lessons. He started entering competitions and usually placed first or second.

But in his teens, Gift stopped playing piano for four years. He went to college at Emory University in Georgia and made a point at first of not telling anyone he played piano.

"I was tired of always having to play," he said. "I loved playing, but I didn't like having to play."

It wasn't until college that Gift picked up the instrument again. Playing reignited his passion for the piano, and he ended up majoring in music and political science. He then went on to study music at Northwestern University in Chicago. There, he took an electronic composition class, which inspired him to purchase a drum machine.

"I had no money for food, but I bought this thing and stayed up all night figuring out how to work it," he said.

Gift moved to Baltimore in 1999, and slowly accumulated pieces of electronic music equipment. He started writing electronic music on the side, and showing it to his friends.

"Often times, they would say, `Wow, this music is really descriptive, I can really see this in an action scene in a movie,'" Gift said. "For some reason, they would often associate it with some type of film medium, and they would encourage me to put it out."

With some prodding from his friends, Gift released Sound: in June. It features two MCs: Salim Heggins and Napoleon Solo. Gift and Heggins are already planning a follow-up album to Sound:. Collaborating with Gift was effortless, Heggins said.

"Working with Kevin is one of the easiest things to do," Heggins said.

"He's truly the greatest producer that I've ever seen or heard - signed or unsigned. I know I'm biased, but you can tell him an emotion, and he's able to capture an emotion in a track. I've never seen anyone who can do that."

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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