THE DOZENS: ESSENTIAL GERALD WILSON by Jeff Sultanof



                               Gerald Wilson, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

Gerald Wilson first attracted attention in the music world when he replaced Sy Oliver in the Jimmie Lunceford band in 1940. Wilson wrote two compositions for Lunceford that remain classics and are still performed: “Hi Spook” and “Yard Dog Mazurka.” Wilson was also a member of the Les Hite and Benny Carter bands before joining the Navy.

Vocalist Herb Jeffries asked Wilson to assemble a band for him to front, then backed out at the last minute. It was too late to cancel the bookings that were already made, so Wilson was suddenly a leader, something he’d dreamt of since he was a boy.

At this writing, Gerald Wilson continues to write and record at the age of 89, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He sacrificed greater fame to stay in California and write, conduct and teach. He accomplished his goal of being able to write any kind of music for any occasion, and remains a gracious, humble man who still has a lot to say and a worldwide audience to listen.


Gerald Wilson: Groovin' High

Track

Groovin' High

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1945-1946 (Classics 976)

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader),

Snooky Young, Hobart Dotson, Joe “Red” Kelly, James Anderson (trumpets), Melba Liston, Isaac Livingstone, Ralph Bledsoe, Robert Huerta (trombones), Floyd Turnham, Leo Trammel (alto saxes), Vernon Slater, Eddie (not “Lockjaw”) Davis (tenor saxes), Maurice Simon (baritone sax), Benny Sexton (guitar), Jimmy Bunn (piano), Robert Rudd (bass), Henry Tucker Green (drums)

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Composed by Dizzy Gillespie. Arranged by Gerald Wilson

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Recorded: Los Angeles, 1945

Albumcovergeraldwilsonandhisorchestra1945-1946

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Gerald Wilson's arrangement (the tune is based on the chord changes of the standard "Whispering") was the first-known big band setting of one of the anthems of the new music called bebop, and proved that his was one of the most modern bands at that time. Recorded for a small label named Excelsior Records, this didn't get much distribution, but was certainly heard by many listeners who embraced the most up-to-date trends in jazz. Solos are by Dotson, Davis and Bunn, the most boppish of the soloists. Wilson even includes a reference to "A Night in Tunisia" before the shout chorus.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Cruisin' with Cab

Track

Cruisin' with Cab

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1945-1946 (Classics 976)

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader),

Snooky Young, Hobart Dotson, Joe “Red” Kelly, James Anderson (trumpets), Melba Liston, Isaac Livingstone, Ralph Bledsoe, Robert Huerta (trombones), Floyd Turnham, Gus Evans (alto saxes), Vernon Slater, Eddie (not “Lockjaw”) Davis (tenor saxes), Maurice Simon (baritone sax), Elijah “Buddy” Harper (guitar), Jimmy Bunn (piano), Robert Rudd (bass), Henry Tucker Green (drums)

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Composed by Gerald Wilson

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Recorded: Los Angeles, 1946

Albumcovergeraldwilsonandhisorchestra1945-1946

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

This exciting up-tempo tribute to Cab Calloway is the sort of thing Calloway's band would play in its prime, although Gerald Wilson's harmony has distinctly modern touches. Solos are by Bunn, Davis, Dotson and Evans. The band really smokes on this track, one of the most exciting this ensemble ever played.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Warm Mood

Track

Warm Mood

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1945-1946 (Classics 976)

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader),

Snooky Young, Hobart Dotson, Joe “Red” Kelly, James Anderson (trumpets), Melba Liston, Isaac Livingstone, Ralph Bledsoe, Robert Huerta (trombones), Floyd Turnham, Gus Evans (alto saxes), Vernon Slater, Eddie (not “Lockjaw”) Davis (tenor saxes), Maurice Simon (baritone sax), Elijah “Buddy” Harper (guitar), Jimmy Bunn (piano), Robert Rudd (bass), Henry Tucker Green (drums)

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Composed by Melba Liston

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Recorded: Los Angeles, 1946

Albumcovergeraldwilsonandhisorchestra1945-1946

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Melba Liston was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and moved with her family to Los Angeles at the age of 11. A professional trombonist since she was 16 and a regular contributor to the Gerald Wilson book, she was 20 when she wrote this lovely alto feature for Floyd Turnham. A solo by Bunn is also heard before a modulation and dissonant ending, making the mood a little less warm and more uncertain. Liston was to have a major career writing and playing for Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones and Randy Weston, and even at this early stage had something beautiful and profound to say.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Et-ta

Track

Et-ta

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1946-1954 (Classics 1444)

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader),

Snooky Young, Hobart Dotson, Joe “Red” Kelly, James Anderson (trumpets), Melba Liston, Isaac Livingstone, Ralph Bledsoe, Robert Huerta (trombones), Floyd Turnham, Gus Evans (alto saxes), Vernon Slater, Eddie (not “Lockjaw”) Davis (tenor saxes), Maurice Simon (baritone sax), Elijah “Buddy” Harper (guitar), Jimmy Bunn (piano), Robert Rudd (bass), Henry Tucker Green (drums)

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Composed by Gerald Wilson

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Recorded: Los Angeles, 1946

Albumcovergeraldwilsonandhisorchestra1946-1954

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

This track is a showcase for tenor saxophonist Eddie (not "Lockjaw") Davis, although the composition itself also has interest. After a brass fanfare, the simple melody is accompanied by a two-beat rhythm la Jimmie Lunceford, then the saxes and brass roar in parallel chromatic chords before the melody returns in 4-beat rhythm. Another modern touch is in the tune's "B" section, where Wilson throws in a rhythmic displacement of 3+3+2 while the band plays flatted fifth chords. During the solo, the listener is reminded of Illinois Jacquet with Lionel Hampton's band, but only Gerald Wilson could have written these unique and exciting sounds.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Dissonance in Blues

Track

Dissonance in Blues

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1946-1954 (Classics 1444)

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader),

Ernie Royal, Walter Williams (trumpets), Melba Liston, Henry Coker, Robert Wagner, Trummy Young (trombones), Willie Smith (alto sax), Irving Ashby (guitar), Jimmy Bunn or Vivian Fears (piano), Red Callender (bass), Oscar Bradley (drums), others unidentified

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Composed by Gerald Wilson

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Recorded: Los Angeles, 1947

Albumcovergeraldwilsonandhisorchestra1946-1954

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

Gerald Wilson's band was beginning to reach the highest rungs of popularity and stardom when the leader decided to disband and study music intensely. He purchased scores by Stravinsky, Debussy, Bartok and other modern composers so that he could write anything for any media. This recording reflects his studies and shows his fascination with alternate harmonies and unusual instrumental voicings while serving as a feature for virtuoso bassist Callender, who also shows off his bowing technique at the end of the track. Even with a flawed ending on the final chord, this is an important statement by Wilson. Even though he would take a hiatus as a recording bandleader, he would stay busy writing for Ellington, Basie and Gillespie for the next three years.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Blues for Yna Yna

Track

Blues for Yna Yna

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

The Artist Selects: Gerald Wilson (Blue Note 31439)

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader), Richard 'Groove' Holmes (organ), Carmell Jones (trumpet), Harold Land (tenor sax),

Ray Triscari, Jimmy Zito, John Audino (trumpets), Bob Edmondson, Lester Robertson, John Ewing, Kenny Shroyer (trombones), Buddy Collette (flute, alto sax), Harry Klee (alto sax), Teddy Edwards (tenor sax), Jack Nimitz (baritone sax), Jimmy Bond (bass), Mel Lewis (drums)

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Composed by Gerald Wilson

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Recorded: Los Angeles, September 9, 1961

Albumcovergeraldwilson-theartistselects

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Gerald Wilson led bands on and off during the 1950s, but except for a group of recordings for the King label in '54, could not get a record contract. Dick Bock, president of Pacific Jazz, was interested but did not have the money. Albert Marx signed Wilson and put up the money for Gerald's recordings that Bock released. Assembling a powerhouse group of established studio men and younger soloists (some of whom Wilson discovered), the maestro went into the studios with guest organist Holmes. This minor blues waltz got a lot of airplay all across the country, and was a great start toward reestablishing Wilson's band. Solos are played by Jones (one of his earliest recordings) and Land.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Nancy Jo

Track

Nancy Jo

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

The Artist Selects: Gerald Wilson (Blue Note 31439)

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader), Carmell Jones (trumpet), Harold Land (tenor sax), Joe Pass (guitar),

Jules Chaiken, John Audino, Freddie Hill (trumpets), Bob Edmondson, Lou Blackburn, Frank Strong, Bob Knight (trombones), Bud Shank (flute, alto sax), Joe Maini (alto sax), Teddy Edwards (tenor sax), Don Raffell (baritone sax), Jack Wilson (piano), Jimmy Bond (bass), Mel Lewis (drums)

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Composed by Gerald Wilson

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Recorded: Los Angeles, August 27, 1962

Albumcovergeraldwilson-theartistselects

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Named for one of Gerald Wilson's daughters, this track is a blues with a major difference: every chord change is an alternate harmony. To this writer's knowledge, this is the only Wilson score that has ever been made available to the public (it was published in an issue of Down Beat), and many arrangers studied it carefully to understand Wilson's harmonic sensibilities as well as the boppish sax section soli in the middle of the arrangement. Jones, Land and Pass solo. Doug Ramsey points out that this recording came a full year before Joe Pass's landmark Pacific Jazz album Catch Me, when the jazz public began to take notice of his solo skills.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Watermelon Man

Track

Watermelon Man

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra (Mosaic MD5-198)

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader), Freddie Hill (trumpet), Curtis Amy (soprano sax), Phil Moore III (piano), Anthony Ortega (piccolo, flute, alto sax), Teddy Edwards (tenor sax),

Melvin Moore, Al Porcino, Jules Chaiken, Nat Meeks (trumpets), John Ewing, Bob Edmondson, Lester Robertson, Fred Murell (trombones), Harold Land (tenor sax), Jack Nimitz (baritone sax), Dennis Budimir (guitar), Buddy Woodson (bass), Mel Lee (drums)

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Composed by Herbie Hancock. Arranged by Gerald Wilson

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Recorded: Los Angeles, December 2, 1965

Albumcovergeraldwilson-completepacificjazzrecordings

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Gerald Wilson always included new compositions of artists he respected. His was the first big band besides Duke Ellington's to play "Come Sunday."  "Groovin' High," "Miles" (the correct name of the tune most know as "Milestones"), "So What" and "Freddie Freeloader" were also part of Gerald's book. "Watermelon Man" was Herbie Hancock's crossover Latin/rock hit that quite a few ensembles played, and which Wilson was smart enough to include for younger listeners. Soloists Hill, Amy, Moore, Ortega (on both piccolo and flute) and Edwards really get down and funky.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Paper Man

Track

Paper Man

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra (Mosaic MD5-198)

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader), Charles Tolliver (trumpet), Hadley Caliman (tenor sax), Phil Moore III (piano),

Gary Barone, Dick Forrest, Larry McGuire, Alex Rodriguez, Al Porcino (trumpets), Lester Robertson, Mike Barone, Thurman Green, Don Switzer (trombones), Ramon Bojorquez, Anthony Ortega (alto saxes), Harold Land (tenor sax), Howard Johnson (baritone sax, tuba), Jack Wilson (organ), Buddy Woodson (bass), Carl Lott (drums)

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Composed by Charles Tolliver

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Recorded: Los Angeles, April 1, 1967

Albumcovergeraldwilson-completepacificjazzrecordings

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Charles Tolliver had played with Jackie McLean, Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins before moving to the West Coast and joining Wilson's band. "He thinks a little different," was how Wilson introduced Tolliver's modal rock blues, once again delighted to introduce another new talent through his ensemble. The composer, Caliman and Moore get solo space. Tolliver, of course, has gone on to lead his own small and large ensembles, and has continued to make powerful musical statements.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Out of This World

Track

Out of This World

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra (Mosaic MD5-198)

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader), Bobby Bryant (trumpet), Anthony Ortega (alto sax), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes),

Gary Barone, Dick Forrest, Alex Rodriguez (trumpet), Lester Robertson, Frank Strong, Thurman Green, Mike Wimberly (trombone), Henry DeVega (reeds), Ramon Bojorquez (alto sax), Harold Land, Hadley Caliman (tenor saxes), Richard Aplanalp (baritone sax), Phil Moore III (piano), Stan Gilbert (bass), Frank Butler (drums), Moises Obligacion (conga), Hugh Anderson (percussion)

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Composed by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Arranged by Gerald Wilson

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Recorded: Los Angeles, January 2, 1968

Albumcovergeraldwilson-completepacificjazzrecordings

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

It says quite a bit when an arrangement written in 1945 sounds just as contemporary today. Gerald Wilson wrote his version of "Out of This World" for a concert in the earliest days of his band's career. The arrangement runs the gamut: several tempo changes, unusual re-harmonization and rhythms certainly show that Wilson was as modern and musically skilled as George Handy, Pete Rugolo and Ralph Burns. Bobby Bryant is the trumpet soloist who plays into the stratosphere, Ortega solos on alto sax, and during a slow Latin section, Hutcherson plays a lyrical solo. What other striking compositions and arrangements from that era of Wilson's career haven't we heard?

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Lomelin

Track

Lomelin

Group

Gerald Wilson Orchestra of the '80s

CD

Love You Madly (Discovery DSCD-947)

Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader), Oscar Brashear (trumpet), Harold Land (tenor sax), Mike Wofford (acoustic piano),

Rick Baptist, Hal Espinosa, Snooky Young, Bobby Bryant (trumpet), Thurman Green, Jimmy Cleveland, Garnett Brown, Maurice Spears (trombone), Henry DeVega, Roger Hogan, Buddy Collette (reeds), Jerome Richardson, Anthony Ortega (alto sax), Ernie Watts (tenor sax) Jack Nimitz (baritone sax), Harold C. Land (electric piano), John B. Williams (bass), Paul Humphrey (drums)

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Composed by Gerald Wilson

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Recorded: Los Angeles, March 13-14, 1981

Albumcovergeraldwilson-orchestraofthe80s

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Gerald Wilson's band had not made an album for 12 years when Albert Marx asked him back to record for his new label, Discovery. By then, Wilson had had his own radio program and was teaching jazz history at universities in California. His orchestra of the 1980s was filled with old and new faces and was as good as any ensemble he'd fronted. "Lomelin" continued in the tradition of "Viva Tirado" and "El Viti," other Wilson portraits of great bullfighters he has admired. Wilson's art had deepened since his '60s recordings: varied tempos and additional reeds make this a powerful concert work blending Mexican and jazz threads. Oscar Brashear delivers an emotional solo at the beginning and the end, with additional solos by Land (sax) and Wofford. The maestro was back where he belonged.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Gerald Wilson: Viva Tirado

Track

Viva Tirado

Artist

Gerald Wilson (leader)

CD

New York, New Sound (Mack Avenue MAC 31009 + MAC 1019 [SACD])

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Musicians:

Gerald Wilson (leader), Renee Rosnes (piano), Sean Jones (trumpet), Jimmy Heath (tenor sax), Frank Wess (tenor sax), Jesse Davis (alto sax),

Jimmy Owens, Eddie Henderson, Frank Greene (trumpets), Benny Powell, Luis Bonilla, Dennis Wilson, Douglas Purviance (trombones), Jerry Dodgion (alto sax), Jay Brandford (baritone sax), Anthony Wilson (guitar), Larry Ridley (bass), Stix Hooper (drums), Lenny Castro (percussion)

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Composed by Gerald Wilson

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Recorded: New York, February 2003

Albumcovergeraldwilson-newyorknewsound

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

It was inevitable that someone would ask Gerald Wilson to record many of his classic arrangements with an all-star New York big band. Happily, Stix Hooper made it happen and even played on one of the sessions. "Viva Tirado" was dedicated to bullfighter Jose Ramon Tirado, and has become a jazz and Latin standard since Wilson first recorded it in 1962. Solos are by Rosnes, Jones, Heath and Wess trading, and Davis. This performance may be a bit laid back for some, but you can feel the love for the leader in every track on the album. Try to hear the SACD version of this CD, which is not as dry and constricted as the stereo mix.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof



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