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San Antonio Musician Recovers From Near-Death COVID Experience, Releases New Album

Wilkins recording music with his bandmates.
Courtesy of Ron Wilkins
Wilkins recording music with his bandmates.

Widely-known and talented San Antonio musician Ron Wilkins offers the world multiple jazz soundscapes through his musical creations. Not only is he a master of the trombone, his main instrument, he also sings professionally in his new album "Trombocalist."

Wilkins' third jazz album was finally released in the summer of this year— a long-overdue project that began in 2018, halted due to COVID-19, which left him in a medically-induced coma for 32 days.

"(With) COVID spreading so crazy and the whole world just trying to deal with it, it just seemed like it didn't make much sense to get a release album at that time," he said.

The inspiration for the album came from San Antonio. Before COVID-19, Wilkins performed regularly with the San Antonio Symphony and Broadway shows. Wilkins recalled himself performing an outdoor concert at the McNay Museum one day and this lead him to an "aha!" moment.

"There was a retired military talking to me about (the concert), he came up afterwards and said, 'Man, you could sing all this stuff and you could play exactly what you're singing. You're like a Trombocalist. And I was like, I never heard that before, but I kind of like it," he said.

Grammy-winning producer John Lee and musician Rebecca Patterson collaborated to help Wilkins in the creation of the "Trombocalist." The album is 10 songs long, covering sub genres of jazz — from bossa nova to modern funk.

Other musicians also contributed, including Tommy Campbellon drums, Jeff Barone on guitar, Jeb Patton on piano, Ray Cotta on bass, Mercedes Beckman on saxophone, and Freddie Hendrix on trumpet.

Ron Wilkins performing with the Eval Vilner Big Band
Courtesy of Ron Wilkins
Ron Wilkins performing with the Eval Vilner Big Band

Now fully recovered and healthy, Wilkins serves as one of the classical trombone professor at Texas State University and plays gigs at renowned venues such as Jazz, TX in town and Birdlandin New York City. When asked about his most memorable experience as a musician, he said it was performing at Aretha Franklin's birthday bash in 2018.

"And the bandleader on (stage), also the producer John Lee said, 'Right, man, you need to sing for Aretha. Why don't you sing this tune for us?' So I sang the song for her and she came up afterwards and gave me a hug and kiss me on the cheek and said, 'you sing really good.' And I'm just like, 'Oh, my God,' Aretha Franklin. I'm trying to hold myself together."

As a COVID survivor, music educator and top performer and musician, Ron Wilkins continues his legacy by teaching and inspiring people around the world with his music — undoubtedly with his heart and soul.

Ron Wilkin's album "Trombocalist" is available on Apple Music, Spotify, and on Ronwilkins.net.

Jia Chen is a freelance journalist and photographer for Texas Public Radio. She began with TPR working as the Bexar County selected Summer Arts Intern in 2021. Her coverage includes arts & culture, technology, politics, and more. She holds a BA in Communication from University of Texas at San Antonio and has lived in San Antonio for over 20 years.