Ask any jazz musician to name the finest guitarists in Houston, and Mike Wheeler's name is likely to be on the list. A Bayou City native who played with the likes of Jimmy Ford and Arnett Cobb when he was breaking on the scene, Wheeler is a bebop player in the tradition of Wes Montgomery, Johnny Smith, Jim Hall, and Kenny Burrell. He derives some of his harmonic concepts from pianist Bill Evans, and like any true jazz player, he's gleaned more than a little something from Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker. In essence, Wheeler is a classic straight-ahead guitarist with a solid vocabulary and a warm tone that has just the right amount of bite.

Wheeler made some waves in 1994 with his release, Indian Summer. The traditional bop album was produced by Willie Nelson and recorded at Nelson's ranch in Austin. This year, another country connection proved fruitful as Wheeler arranged and played on a recording of pop standards with Merle Haggard. The as-yet-untitled CD is due out in February. Wheeler has another recording, this one with fellow Houston guitarists Mike Sunjka and Paul Chester, also due out in early 2001.

An instructor of jazz guitar at both the University of St. Thomas and the University of Houston, Wheeler is one of the busier musicians on the scene. His versatility is his calling card: He can move from the sedate sounds of a jazz brunch or a happy-hour gig to the raucous, swinging strains of a big band. He also fronts his own trio. In that format -- guitar, bass and drums -- Wheeler stretches out and plays some solid bebop, which is exactly what he'll be doing this weekend.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paul J. MacArthur