Tal Wilkenfeld – the prodigy from down under

Back in 2007, Jeff Beck and his band performed at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago. There were 40,000 people in the crowd and the festival was later aired on tv. Everyone wondered who Beck’s bass player was. Not only was the unknown girl fantastic on the four string, she also looked very young, young enough to be a schoolgirl. The girl’s name is Tal Wilkenfeld and here’s a clip of her performing at that festival…

Born in 1986 in Sydney, Australia, Tal Wilkenfeld started playing guitar when she was fourteen years old. At the age of 16 she dropped out of school, saying “it just wasn’t going to work for me” and took off to the States, where she studied at the Los Angeles Music Academy. During that first year in America, Tal switched to bass guitar, saying “there’s too many six string guitarists”. By the time Tal was 18 she had formed her own band, moved to New York and was making a name for herself in the jazz clubs. In 2006, Tal recorded her debut album, called ‘Transformation’. Here’s a short interview with Tal Wilkenfeld on the Aussie Today show, where she plays a song from the ‘Transformation’ album called Serendipity. Tal was 20 years old when she made this tv recording…

The ‘Transformation’ album got Tal Wilkenfeld noticed by musos. She played and toured with people like Chick Corea, Frank Gambale and Antonio Sanchez. Rumour has it that she sent a demo tape to Jeff Beck, and upon hearing it, Beck asked Tal who the bass player was. When Tal explained that she was the bass player he immediately asked her to join him on his 2007 European tour. The other musicians were Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Jason Rebello on keyboard. After the tour they played at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago. Later in 2007, Beck & Co had a highly acclaimed week-long residency at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London (I’ve made a separate post about it here). This next track is from the 2007 Ronnie Scott’s performances and it’s called Space Boogie

Throughout 2008, Tal Wilkenfeld toured with, amongst others, Wayne Krantz, Keith Carlock and again with Jeff Beck at a George Martin tribute concert in Los Angeles. In early 2009 she joined Beck and Vinnie Colaiuta and Jason Rebello on a tour of Australia and Japan. During an interview Beck said: “It’s interesting to have some amazing players in my band like Tal, who is about, you know half, a quarter of the age of either Vinnie or me. She’s a genius. She will pick up mistakes that we, even Vinnie and I miss. So she’s a great anchor as well”. During a show in Yokohama, Becks guitar amp developed technical problems. While it was being sorted out, Tal and Vinnie and Jason went into an improv jam. Tal invited Jeff Beck to duet with her on the bass guitar. It became a highlight of all their following shows that year. Here’s some amateur footage of a Tal and Beck duet at a New York gig…

Also in 2009, Jeff Beck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the second such award for Beck (his first time was a group award in 1992 as a member of the Yardbirds). As part of his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gig, Beck invited Jimmy Page on stage. This final video shows the performance. Since then, Tal Wilkenfeld has continued to work with Jeff Beck, and others such as Herbie Hancock, Rod Stewart, John Mayer and Prince. She has not yet released a second solo album; not that she has to prove anything: in the short number of years since Tal Wilkenfeld first picked up a guitar she has played alongside some of the legends of the business.

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