This is not to say that Wingo has never recorded, but so far he has always been a sideman, with such local artists as Tim Eyermann, Ronnie Wells, Bill Potts' Big Band, Uptown Vocal Jazz, Debbie MacFarlan, and the Army Blues Band, with whom he played for six years, appearing frequently at the White House. He has also worked with many major artists, including Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Pepper Adams, Phil Woods, Herb Ellis, and Charlie Byrd, appeared on the Steve Allen, Dinah Shore, and Tony Martin shows, and led his own trios and quintets in numerous settings. (His complete 2005 performance at the Kennedy Center's Millenium Stage can be seen at:www.kennedy-center.org)
For a clue to Wingo's style one need only learn that he has studied with the likes of Howard Roberts and Joe Pass, and that for his next recording he, along with fellow guitarist Steve Abshire, is planning a tribute to Barney Kessel. His work is straight out of the mainstream jazz guitar tradition, and is presented on both recordings in the simplest and most demanding context of the guitar, bass and drums trio, a configuration first popularized by Kenny Burrell. It is a very demanding format, as much for the listeners as for the performers, more so perhaps than the piano trio given the more limited range of colors and voicings available to the guitar. It can work in the right hands, however, as all the great jazz guitar masters have proved. These recordings suggest there is another such master living quietly in Olney Maryland.
Throughout both these sessions Wingo demonstrates the essence of the classic guitar style. His theme statements and solo passages deftly alternate single note lines and chordal progressions, conveyed through the warm, hollow-body guitar sound favored by this school, as he works through a selection of standards and originals, which he interprets with the kind of focused care characteristic of this approach. The repertoire is similar for the two albums: a little Ellingon, some Monk, some Jobim, a taste of the Great American Songbook, and a handful of Wingo originals. What is different is that one is live and the other was produced in the studio. On the one hand the looser, more spontaneous feeling of a club, with tenor saxophonist Al Maniscalco dropping by to sit in on "Polka Dots." On the other, the more measured, focused approach of a studio recording, although Peace*ing It Together has the best of both worlds, including two live tracks from the earlier session. It also includes the rather extraordinary title tune, sung by Wingo in a gruff, untrained voice, with the emphasis on his lyric that is a hymn to unity and tolerance, with mystical overtones through its reference to the "Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan." By contrast, "Down From Antiqua," from the live session, shows that Wingo possesses a guitar synth and a sense of humor!
The guitar trio format makes great demands on a rhythm section, and Wingo's cohorts do not let him down, accompanying him with sensitivity and careful attention throughout, and providing fine solo interludes when required.
The guitar is a remarkable instrument that is often played badly, but occasionally played very well. In proving his mastery of the instrument after 40 years Paul Wingo may finally become an overnight success.