Gerald Stanley Wilson (September 4, 1918 – September 8, 2014) was an American jazz trumpeter, big band bandleader, composer/arranger, and educator. He wrote arrangements for many other prominent artists including Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Julie London, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Nancy Wilson.
Wilson was from Shelby, Mississippi, where his father, a blacksmith, played the clarinet and trombone, and his mother taught music. Wilson's sister was an excellent classical pianist and his elder brother also played jazz on the piano. Already adept at the piano and entranced by the bands that passed through Shelby on their way to and from New Orleans, his head turned by the music of Duke Ellington, the young Wilson opted for the trumpet.
He moved to Detroit when he was 16 and gained entry to the prestigious Cass Technical high school, where the tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray was one of his classmates. Wilson soon began working in local bands, gradually making his way through their ranks until, aged 20, he joined the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, then at its peak as one of the best-paid and most successful black bands in America. It was with Lunceford's encouragement that Wilson emerged as a soloist and began to compose. His Yard Dog Mazurka proved to be a hit and provided the template for Stan Kenton's huge success with Intermission Riff, which used Wilson's harmonic sequence, although he received no credit for it.
In 1942, Wilson moved to Los Angeles and stayed for good, working as a trumpeter with the crack orchestras of Benny Carter and Les Hite, before a stint with the US navy. Here again he fell on his feet as he joined the all-black Great Lakes naval band, staffed by musicians including the trumpeter Clark Terry and the saxophonist Willie Smith.
|Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie & Gerald Wilson|
By 1948, Wilson was back in the fray, travelling with Count Basie as arranger and occasional player, also accepting short-term assignments to orchestrate pieces for Ellington, before joining Gill- espie in 1949 as trumpeter and writer. He then became an arranger-for-hire, supplying charts to other big bands and providing musical settings for pop albums featuring Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Julie London and Bobby Darin. He also assisted Ellington with the score for Otto Preminger's 1959 movie Anatomy of a Murder and was the musical director for the comedian Redd Foxx's popular ABC-TV variety show.
Of more moment perhaps to his jazz audience, Wilson began a fruitful association with the Pacific Jazz label in LA in the early 1960s, putting together all-star big bands and creating a series of powerful albums that stand among his finest achievements. These deployed Wilson's innovatory and unique approach to harmony.
Wilson also composed extended works for concert ensembles and, inspired by his Mexican-American wife Josefina, wrote music dedicated to the Mexican bullfighters he had befriended. He toured with his occasional big band in both the US and Europe, appearing in London to conduct the BBC Big Band in 2005. Watching Gerald Wilson direct an orchestra was an experience in itself. He was balletic, his shock of white hair a trademark, darting this way and that, as he cued sections and controlled dynamics.
He continued to produce a stream of brilliant new compositions, hosted his own radio show and, from 1970, taught a jazz history course, latterly at the University of California, Los Angeles, where his classes often attracted 400 students. His final hurrah with the Mack Avenue label resulted in a series of richly orchestrated album suites dedicated to New York, Chicago, Detroit and Monterey. In 2011, his last recording was the Grammy nominated "Legacy."
Wilson died at his home in Los Angeles, California, on September 8, 2014, after a brief illness that followed a bout of pneumonia, which had hospitalized him. He was 96 years old.
(Info mainly edited from an obit by Peter Vacher @ the Guardian)