Best Jazz Artist - 2004
An old-school jazzman in the tradition of Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane, tenor saxophonist Willie Akins blows both tough and tender while conjuring entire universes of sound from a few pounds of metal and a few lines on a score. On the bandstand, wielding his sax like a tool and a talisman, Akins can sketch dark fantasies in chiaroscuro, meditate over love lost in infinite shades of blue or paint jubilation in colors as bright as the sun. Dapper in appearance, modest and gentlemanly in manner, off the bandstand Akins is representative of a very particular sort of jazz legend, that of the local guy who could have made the big time but chose a calmer life close to home and family. Those who revere Akins can't help but wish he'd been recorded more often, so as to share his considerable talents with the world. That said, it's a gift to have Willie Akins as part of the St. Louis music scene, and anyone who loves jazz should be thankful for his continued presence.