Meet Immanuel Wilkins, a young alto saxophonist who is here to stay We close out our Youngbloods series with saxophonist and composer Immanuel Wilkins, who takes us into the relationship between his faith and his compositions.

Youngbloods: Saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins

Youngbloods: Saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins

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Saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, one of five young jazz artists included in Jazz Night's inaugural class of Youngbloods. Rog Walker/Amna Ijaz/NPR hide caption

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Rog Walker/Amna Ijaz/NPR

Saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, one of five young jazz artists included in Jazz Night's inaugural class of Youngbloods.

Rog Walker/Amna Ijaz/NPR

Immanuel Wilkins is taking cues from the Holy Spirit: The alto saxophonist and composer's foundations in Pentecostal and Baptist churches were an introduction to the concept of becoming a vessel, of creating in service of God. His earliest praise and worship services had a lot in common with jam sessions at The Clef Club, a Philadelphia-based music education program founded by Lovett Hines. That multi-generational exchange instilled the value of humility and craft.

Wilkins moved to New York in 2015 to hone his chops at Julliard. It's where he became familiar with Richard Wagner's term Gesamtkunstwerk, meaning a "total" work of art in which every creative element is in sync. All of these influences made their way through his pen; he experimented with a four-part suite on his debut album, Omega, and expanded the idea in his latest, The 7th Hand, a seven-part suite that merges African diasporic spiritual practices with classical music theory. His collaboration with filmmaker Cauleen Smith, dancer Lana Turner and photographer Satchel Lee brought the visual elements of the music to life.

In this final edition of our Youngblood series, we'll hear highlights from Wilkins' album release show for The 7th Hand, presented by Ars Nova Workshop at PhilaMOCA in Philadelphia.

He's just getting started – and clearly here to stay: "Maybe the ethos amongst our generation is a kind of aspect of thoroughness, of doing the work and being really exhaustive in how we study," Wilkins explains. "We're not cutting corners, even if that means we're playing a longer game."


Immanuel Wilkins, alto sax; Micah Thomas, piano; Daryl Johns, bass; Kweku Sumbry, drums.

Set List:

All music written by Immanuel Wilkins

  • "Emanation"
  • "Don't Break"
  • "Fugitive Ritual, Selah"
  • "Lighthouse"


Writer and producers: Donelle Wedderburn, Sarah Geledi, Trevor Smith, Alex Ariff; Assistant Producer: Camilo Garzón; Host: Christian McBride; Consulting Editor: Katie Simon; Episode mix: Ron Scalzo; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed. Our Immanuel Wilkins concert was produced by Mark Christman at Ars Nova Workshop and Josh Jackson at WRTI; Recording Engineers: Tyler McLure and Paul Marchesani. Vice President of Visuals and Strategy at NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

Special thanks to Cem Kurosman and Mariah Wilkins.

The Jazz Night Youngbloods theme was produced by Raydar Ellis.

Correction Oct. 3, 2022

The broadcast version of this story originally misidentified Garcia Wilkins, Immanuel Wilkins' father, as Tony Wilkins.