Charles Corpening III is having a turbulent year. In 12 fruitful months, New Orleans producer, DJ and host known as Wino Willy has released four new projects – while becoming a new father, serving as program director at Upbeat Academy and tending to a damaged home after Hurricane Ida.
Bookending the year are two full length instrumental hip-hop albums released by hip hop label Grilchy Party. On “Welcome Home Brother Willy” and “Pastels”, Corpening draws inspiration from Afro-futurism, black American music and the works of Sun Ra and bassist Ron Carter. Between these two discs, Corpening released “Urban Conversations” — created with bassist and producer MLTZR and emcee Love, Ulysses — and “Past to Present” a collaboration with producer Fort Maurice.
“Most of my work, especially this year, has been about connecting moments from the past and bringing them back to the present,” says Corpening.
Corpening had a winding trip to New Orleans. Corpening was born in New Jersey, raised in Philadelphia, attended high school in Beijing, China, and moved to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College. He returned to China to study at Shanghai University before returning to Philadelphia. Along the way, he met and married Ciara Porter, a New Orleans native who makes music like Holy Amethyst — and is also the granddaughter of George Porter Jr. — and the couple decided to move to New Orleans in 2018.
Growing up, Corpening began creating his own beats using belt-driven turntables, and he learned how to assemble samples using the Audacity program. He began performing live and honed his performing skills at concerts in Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta and China. He found influences in producers like J Dilla, Flying Lotus and Madlib as well as luminaries like Jaco Pastorius, Ron Carter, Miles Davis and Nicholas Payton.
“My grandfather was a very keen listener of abstract jazz, so I discovered Sun Ra through him. I learned a lot from him,” Corpening says. “My cousin-uncle slash on my mother’s side was a very famous jazz bagpipe player named Rufus Harley.He played with John Coltrane.
“The link between this music and hip-hop, [Harley] played on ‘Do You Want More?!!!??!’ by The Roots. And Ron Carter also played with The Roots,” adds Corpening. “There’s a common thread between these styles, and it informs me what I’m going to do in the future. When I look for sounds and textures, I go back to those moments of my childhood, but also to those spaces where they were trying different things.
Or, as Corpening told Reverb.com“How do I combine this astral, spiritual jazz with grimy, dusty, aesthetic b-boy boom-bap beats?”
After moving to New Orleans, Corpening became a regular face at events like Dolo Jazz Suite and Counter Sessions at Sea Cave Arcade, and he released his first full-length Wino Willy album, “Burlap”, in 2019 (although Corpening has released Wino Willy material since 2010 via SoundCloud and tape).
On “Welcome home, brother Willy”, Corpening samples Sun Ra’s “Space Is the Place” in 1973, pairing the samples with “gritty hip-hop drums” that show “the duality within ourselves – the constant search for elevation intertwined with the pursuit of higher instincts. low as sex, greed and money,” the album notes say.
For “Pastels” Corpening once again collaborated with MLTZR. He wanted to do a project where he could bring influences from the post-bop movement and abstractions from black American music, he says. An image of Carter features on the cover, alongside images and iconography of Ma’at, the Egyptian Goddess of Truth and Justice.
“For me, it’s an extension of black American music and my experience as an African American in the United States,” Corpening says. “I connect my lineage and my roots through my music and into the future.”
Find the music and more about Wino Willy on winowilly.com.