Sunny Wilkinson and Ron Newman break out of quarantine


MONDAY, April 6 — Anyone who has observed the artistry, mutual respect and camaraderie between vocalist Sunny Wilkinson and her husband, pianist/composer Ron Newman, has probably wondered what it would be like to be a fly on the wall of their living room.

Go for it. Pick your spot on the stucco and dig the jazz.

Tuesday night at 7, Wilkinson and Newman will play an intimate concert of original compositions as part of the “Remotely Interested” concert series sponsored by the Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College.

Nationally and locally famous artists by the dozens are posting online concerts from their homes in the era of coronavirus. Newman is a fan of lyrical pianist Fred Hersch’s sanity-saving, near-daily jazz concerts.

Wilkinson was wary of the idea until she watched a few, including remote gigs by some of her colleagues and friends in Los Angeles.

“I was hesitant to do this, because I was very persnickety about sound quality, and lighting, and putting out a professional product,” she said. “But I found out, after watching other concerts that you don’t care about those things. It’s just lovely to set up a connection. It’s about being a part of a community, and contributing to that community.”

Wilkinson heard the idea, and the “Remotely Interested” series, from Jamie Sue Seal and Siusan O’Rourke of the boutique label Smokin’ Sleddog Records. (Wilkinson and Newman, along with bassist Ed Fedewa and drummer Larry Ochiltree, are featured on the passionate CD “Into the Light,” released last year on the Smokin’ Sleddog label.)

“They’re wonderful women and they booked this concert through the Mendel Center,” Wilkinson said.

They are still learning how to hook up to the world via their their phone and computer.

“The music is a joy,” Wilkinson said. “The technology is crazy — if you’re not in your 30s. We are neophytes. But we’ve got it figured out.”

“We’re approaching this as, in our own weird way, we’re just going to hang out with friends,” Newman said. They’ve already heard from several friends and fans who are planning watch parties.

“We’re practicing, we’re getting ready, but it’s really going to be relaxed,” Newman said. “It’s a way to say, ‘let’s communicate.’”

Although Newman is retired from his MSU post, he and Wilkinson are keeping busy — almost too busy.

“This isn’t what I retired for,” Newman said.

Wilkinson is doing online lessons with students, singing a lot throwing pots in her home pottery studio and reading a “delicious” Tana French novel. Newman, a longtime MSU composition professor, is still running the Lansing Symphony’s big band project. He’s also in a deep Schubert phase, studying scores and playing the works of the great classical composer.

Together, besides rehearsing for Tuesday’s concert, Newman and Wilkinson are studying Spanish, taking long walks, doing a lot of work in the yard, and finding ways to cook inventively with whatever is in the pantry.

“We are so fortunate to have each other and to be able to do so many things we enjoy,” Wilkinson said. “There are a lot of things we used to take more for granted but appreciate so much more now.”

Sunny Wilkinson and Ron Newman

7 p.m. Tuesday, April 7

Hosted by the Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College

Go to the Mendel Center’s Facebook page

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