About Cory Wong
Recognized for his high-speed improvisational skills, fun-loving performance spirit, and a flexible right wrist, guitarist Cory Wong had a multifaceted music career in his base of Minneapolis, Minnesota before becoming better known for regular guest spots as rhythm guitarist for Ann Arbor R&B/funk outfit Vulfpeck in the mid-2010s. Often incorporating intricate, percussive picking into his rhythm playing, his style merges acoustic and electric techniques gleaned from years invested in both. Wong's second solo LP, a set of lighthearted jazz-funk titled The Optimist, debuted in the Top 20 of the Billboard Jazz Albums chart upon its release in 2018.
Born in New York and raised in Minnesota, Wong attended the McNally Smith College of Music in Saint Paul before embarking on a diverse musical career that included hitting the jazz clubs of Minneapolis-Saint Paul and finding work as a producer, arranger, and touring bandmember. He also co-founded the local independent label Secret Stash Records. The Cory Wong Quartet put out the soul-jazz LP Even, Uneven in 2008, and in 2010, Wong's song "Upstream" was available as an additional download for the video game Rock Band 2. In 2012, he released Quartet/Quintet, a double album he recorded with bassist Billy Peterson, drummer Zach Schmidt, and pianists Dan Musselman and Kevin Gastonguay, who split piano duties. The quintet portion of the album featured the same lineup but with Andy Schuster on bass and Gastonguay on Fender Rhodes, while Musselman played piano.
Around that time, Wong met Vulfpeck's Jack Stratton, Theo Katzman, Joe Dart, and Woody Goss at a house show in Minneapolis. They became fast friends and started playing together live before Wong joined them in the studio for Vulfpeck's second LP, 2016's The Beautiful Game. It reached number ten on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. That same year, Wong released the solo EP MSP, Pt. 1. He made his official full-length solo debut in September 2017 with the eclectic Cory Wong and the Green Screen Band, a playful fusion of funk, R&B, jazz, and rock. The mostly instrumental set also featured a couple of singing appearances from fellow Vulfpeck collaborator Antwaun Stanley. Two months later, his guitar work could be heard on Vulfpeck's third album, Mr. Finish Line.
Wong's second solo album came about after he got a call from organist Ricky Peterson (George Benson, David Sanborn) saying he'd be in Minneapolis the following week. Excited about the prospect of joining him in the studio, Wong told Peterson he'd been working on some songs and asked if he would like to get together to record them. Wong scrambled to write some songs in the days leading up to the session, while also putting together a rhythm section comprising bassist Sonny Thompson and drummer Michael Bland, both former Prince bandmembers. A second lineup joined him for an additional session in Minneapolis, and a third session with Ben Rector and his band took place in Nashville. The resulting release, August 2018's The Optimist, also featured long-distance contributions from Stanley, Marti Fischer, and KATIS, as well as the horn section Hornheads (Prince). In the meantime, his Vulfpeck spin-off group the Fearless Flyers released an eponymous EP via Vulf Records. Consisting of Wong, Dart on bass, lead guitarist Mark Lettieri (Snarky Puppy), and drummer Nate Smith (Dave Holland, Chris Potter), the quartet made its live debut in September of 2018.
The next year, Wong issued a series of concert recordings, including Live in Minneapolis, Live on the Lido Deck, and Live in the U.K. He also released Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul. To cap off a busy year, Wong and his Vulfpeck bandmates headlined a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden.