For three years, when people saw British guitar icon Jeff Beck in concert, there’d be an added buzz in the room. It emanated from the young woman in his band who oozed fluid, nimble bass lines yet looked like a curly-haired teenager.

That was most people’s introduction to Tal Wilkenfeld, who’s been turning heads since she left her native Australia at age 16 to study guitar in California. She switched to bass at 17 and moved the next year to New York, where she jammed with the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theatre and, she says, jumped around to “four or five jazz clubs every night until 5 in the morning or later, to sit in everywhere and get my ass kicked.” However, by the time Beck snagged her, she had passed her 20th birthday.

“It was kind of a weird paradox of being called a child prodigy,” says Wilkenfeld, now 29. “I got a pretty late start.”

She made up time fast. During her tenure with Beck, the diminutive bass guitarist shared the stage with Jimmy Page, Sting and Billy Gibbons at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame events. Wilkenfeld also recorded with Prince, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson and Ryan Adams and backed Pharrell on his hit “Happy” at the 2015 Grammy Awards.

But she’s putting all that aside to forge a career as a singer/songwriter. “I’m not going to stop taking risks now,” Wilkenfeld says from LA before she hits the road with her own band, opening for the Who at TD Garden on March 7 and playing her own show at Brighton Music Hall on March 18. “Moving to the States when I was 16 without my family to play guitar was also a risky thing.”

She actually began as a singer/songwriter in Sydney before she moved to the U.S. and focused on playing. “I decided to let the songwriting and singing go so that I could just focus on being an instrumentalist and be the best I can possibly be at that,” she says. “Now I’m back to where I started, which was writing songs.”

Wilkenfeld still plays mostly bass on songs she’s recording for an album and will share on tour, but she’s showcasing her voice throughout. In forthcoming single “Corner Painter” she muses about a soldier’s desires under guitarist Blake Mills’ dark, dissonant guitar leads, offering a stark contrast to both her work with Beck and her 2007 jazz-fusion debut Transformation. Another relationship-themed song, “Haunted Love,” evokes Jaco Pastorius’ also-lyrically wound bass work with Joni Mitchell. In both cases, Wilkenfeld’s voice sounds sure and dusky, mysteriously nestled between rock, folk and jazz.

Expanding on big-name contacts, she says that she’s been mentored by songwriters she admires, including Jackson Browne and Leonard Cohen (whose song “Chelsea Hotel” she covers on YouTube), and she landed the Who tour after sending songs to Pete Townshend.

Now it’s up to the fans. “For people who know what I’ve previously done, I guess it’s a big jump,” she says. “But for me, it doesn’t seem like a jump at all.”

Asked to name other musicians who truly inspired or influenced her as a singer, songwriter or instrumentalist, Wilkenfeld cites jazz great Wayne Shorter and Bob Dylan, who she calls her greatest inspiration. “Dylan has really affected the way I play my instrument, the way he plays and the way he delivers his lines.”

Then she pauses, stumped to mention others. “I haven’t been influenced by that much music yet, ’cause I sort of jumped right into it and started making my own.”

That began in her youth in Sydney. “I grew up not watching TV and not listening to music,” Wilkenfeld says, noting she owned just a handful of CDs and only played ones by Rage Against the Machine, Herbie Hancock and Jimi Hendrix on repeat.

“Ever since I was young, I’ve been very driven and determined,” she says, noting she wants to compose for films, produce other artists and help the environment as well. “There’s a lot that I want to do. We’ll see how much I can get done.”


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