Octojazzarian profile: joe wilder




For the first time in jazz’s brief century, many leading artists are staying active beyond their eighth decade. OctoJAZZarians is an on-going series celebrating these living legends, pioneers who were first hand participants in the evolution of America's greatest art form.

Our subject this month is trumpeter Joe Wilder.



By arnold jay smith



                         Joe Wilder by Suzanne Cerny

For as long as I have been reading about, listening to, or playing music, there have been names and faces that keep cropping-up in (or out of) a jazz context. We've all had that experience. Sometimes the names would be in the small print on the back of LP jackets; other times in a photo of a band; sometimes in the pit band of a Broadway show. Less frequently, you might catch a glimpse of a familiar face in a symphony broadcast and can't wait for the roll off to see who it was. In my case, that name and face has been, more-often-than-not, the trumpeter/flugelhornist Joe Wilder.

The handsome and mustachioed Mr. Wilder has lost count of the number of recordings he's made. When New York City was the undisputed hub of the recording industry, Joe played sessions of every type: mood music, symphonies, big bands, dance bands, soundtracks, television, and all manner of musical wallpaper. His sight-reading abilities and overall musicality have helped make him a first-call session musician. They also made him a fixture in Broadway pit orchestras, in the days when all musicals used full orchestras. As a sideman, his employers and fellow players fall easily into the much-abused "legendary" category. Joe Wilder is history personified. He currently records as a leader for the Evening Star label (which is owned by Benny Carter biographer Ed Berger).

We spoke of his beginnings late in 2008, sitting on a couch in the cellar of N.Y.C. Musicians Local 802, AFM. ("I think I saw a rat swing by," Joe quipped. "On what instrument?" I asked.) His near-total recall led to a lengthy conversation which was interrupted periodically when the music of bandleader Bill Warfield, who was rehearsing upstairs, wafted down to us and we couldn't resist listening-in. Warfield would join in our riffing.

Born in 1922 near Philadelphia and raised there, Joe didn't know of the area's great music teachers: Madam Chaloff, mother of Serge; Mrs. Eubanks, sister of Ray Bryant and mother of Kevin and Robin. "I wasn't interested in music," he confessed. "My father played the cornet, then went to sousaphone. He played melodies on sousaphone like 'Asleep In The Deep.'" [Joe sang it.] "Later he gave that up, as bass violin became the bottom. He bought a fine German instrument from someone in the Philadelphia Orchestra and paid it off over three years."

Philly was the boomtown home of General Electric, the Fels Naptha soap company, and Phillies Cigars. RCA was just across the river in Camden, New Jersey. "There was a lot of revenue being generated out of Philadelphia," Joe remarked. They also had two baseball teams, the National League Phillies and the original American League Athletics under manager Connie Mack. "The family lived [in a row house] in Colwyn, Pa.," he continued. "My maternal grandfather, who was only a few steps away from slavery, worked for Fels Naptha and put away a little each week. He eventually owned three houses, and we moved in with them.

"We were one of six or seven black families; most were Quakers. As we didn't have electricity, we used kerosene lamps … one time my youngest brother (we were four in all) was playing and some newspapers caught fire and the whole row of houses burned to ashes, necessitating the move to Philadelphia, which was only blocks from Colwyn." The family was long-lived. "My grandparents on both sides lived into their 60s and 70s, which was old for their time. My father died in 2001, months from his 101st."

His mother, who was also a musician, established a traveling beautician business. "Sort of a 'CC Rider' beauty parlor. My father, who met people on his musical travels, suggested that she do that, because there was no one else in that area for women's beauty needs. She began going to people's homes in Philadelphia. Eventually she opened a shop in her own home." The picture we're getting here is of an industrious cohesive unit which supported each other on every level. Joe's foray into a musical career was no different.

"I must have been in elementary school—say 3rd or 4th grade—when my father decided he wanted me to play cornet." You'd think they already had one around the house. Not so. "My father went to a hock shop and picked up a used Holton, which was in pretty good shape, but it had been in the hock shop for some time so it needed work. I began lessons with a trumpet player, Henry Lowe, from the Frankie Fairfax band. He also played with my father's band." Fairfax eventually became secretary of the local Philadelphia black musicians' union.

The cornet is a fabled instrument, one which most personified New Orleans music: the instrument of Buddy Bolden, Joe "King" Oliver and his protégé Louis Armstrong. Thomas Dorsey Sr. played it in a Carlisle, Pennsylvania church and taught his children Tommy and Jimmy to play it. But after Rex Stewart, it seemed to fall from grace in favor of the brighter sound of the trumpet. I asked Joe: Why the cornet?

"It was because of the military bands, which didn't use trumpets. For example, John Phillip Sousa used cornets," Joe said. [Think of the lyrics to that tune from The Music Man: "76 trombones led the big parade, with 101 cornets close behind."] "Some famous cornetists of that time were Herbert Clark, Del Staigers. While Lowe was a nice guy, my father was not happy with my progress, so he got me his teacher, Mr. Frederic P. Griffin. He could play any instrument. My first public appearance was in public school, standing in the hallway playing taps."

After that inauspicious start (inexplicably ignored by the critical community), Joe went on to Tilden Jr. High. "[Tilden] had an orchestra made up of students who played in the public schools which didn't have … formal bands. We played the music from 'The Pirates of Penzance.' We were just kids, but our teacher, Alberta Schenbecker, thought that if we had enough talent, she'd help us along. A fellow student and I practiced from the Arban book [a trumpet method book]—among other things, 'Carnival of Venice.' Usually the student trumpeters play the first part of the melody [he sang]. We got to be so good that we were triple tonguing [he sang again.] It really taught us how to improvise, as we would switch off doing four bars apiece." I joined him, and we demonstrated how two mouth trumpeters might sound doing "Carnival." Our duet had become so joyous that we began competing with the rehearsal upstairs; we were politely asked to tone it down. Joe concluded, "It got to be where you didn't know where one left off and the other began. Very rewarding, especially for two kids. It wasn't jazz; after all, it was still called 'the devil's music.' All of my musical friends, including my 'Carnival' buddy, went on to a high school which graduated them into such as the Baltimore Symphony.

Philadelphia was still segregated. "The first band to integrate was led by society bandleader Jan Savitt, which had a brown-skinned vocalist. In the '30s, Joe's father played with Jimmy Gorham's band at the Warwick Hotel. "That was the first all-black band to play there," Joe says. A few years later, as a teenager, Joe played with the same band in the same place. "That was the second time [for an all black band]. After that, the hotel was issued a warning by the white local union that if they continued that practice, they would not be permitted to hire a white orchestra." The hotel stopped using all-black bands.

Speaking of the Warwick gig reminded Joe of a sad but all-too-familiar tale. The Gorham band was playing a party for a southern advertising company. A woman from the company approached the bandstand. "In her deepest southern drawl, she told Jimmy how much she and her guests were enjoying the music. 'They've never heard such a hot nigger band,' she said, not even thinking that was not a nice word. In her circles it was commonplace," Joe said. "A few members of the band who were from the rural south went-off on her. They'd liked to lynch her." Words can hurt. "We need to stop blacks calling each other that," says Joe. "It will end, now with Obama in the Presidency. He's among the most qualified persons to hold the office, of any background, ever. All the negativism on both sides will melt away." Let us pray he's right.

Joe remembers prejudice in the world of classical music, as well. "Friends of my father auditioned for the Philadelphia Orchestra [under Leopold Stokowski]—first-class classical players … They were told that they did very well. 'But don't call us, we'll call you.' They never were, of course," said Joe. "It was the first time I had ever heard that expression. My father used to joke about that."

After Philly and Gorham's band, Joe played with Lonnie Slappy's band, which was based on the style of bassist John Kirby's band, which featured, among others, trumpeter Charlie Shavers. "Slappy's band played your basic jazz and ballads," says Joe. "Frank Galbraith, who was on trumpet, was leaving for Chick Webb's band. I was hired and I played lead as well as jazz improvising trumpet—my first time."

Now experienced, the still-young Wilder hooked-up with another Philly Kirby-styled small band, the Harlem Dictators. They were playing in Annapolis and the Kirby band was in nearby Baltimore. "They came over to hear us, as they heard we were playing their music. So I played one of Charlie Shavers' solos note-for-note. I like to think he was flattered." Much later, when Shavers had throat cancer and couldn't talk, Wilder visited him in the hospital. Joe began to write questions to him. "Charlie looked up and said, 'Joe I can't talk, but I can hear,'' said Joe. "We had a laugh, but did I feel silly. What a versatile musician! He differed from his contemporary Roy Eldridge in that Charlie played a lot of classical music. Here's a guy who could have been with any of the major symphony orchestras."

Trumpeter Billy Jones was the leader of the Harlem Dictators. "He had me play lead as well as the solos," Joe said. At one point the 16 year-old Wilder was blown out. "I couldn't play a note, I played so hard. I took two-and-a-half weeks off. Jones would come off the bandstand looking pressed and dapper even in the summer and there was no air conditioning." Of course, he did; Joe was doing all the work.

Doc Cheatham credited his long playing career to the fact that he usually played lead and did not solo often. Joe said that solo players hurt themselves by playing so high. "I never played high; I was not that kind of player. I never screamed. Those guys destroyed themselves physically. They didn't know what they were doing. You have to play for a number of years before you realize the damage." I remarked that it was Louis Armstrong who created the art of the jazz entertainer by playing all those C's above high C, and subsequent players never looked back. "You think about Louis, and how his mind was so creative and having no one before him to get the musical information from," said Joe. "While I was listening to him, I was learning classical music from the Arban book.

Early in his career, Joe worked on a Philly radio show sponsored by Parisian Tailors. "The Kessler Brothers [the company's proprietors] used to make almost all the major band uniforms for Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson and others," said Joe. "They weren't wearing tuxedos in those days, just dress suits." The tailors' chief cutter, Eddie Lieberman, began dabbling in black artists' management. "Eddie persuaded the Kesslers into sponsoring a show for black children, because Horn & Hardart [the Automat people, another Philadelphia-based company] had a show for white kids. In effect, sort of a payback for the tailoring business the black bands were giving them.

"I was the only one playing an instrument. Percy Heath was playing the violin, but they didn't like that. They called me 'Little Louis' only because I was playing the trumpet. I didn't sound like him at all. My father brought home first trumpet parts, and I would learn them and play them on the show with an accompanist, Ruth Mosley. There were boy and girl singers and dancers, and [the soon-to-be-famous] Stump and Stumpy, who would dance on a wooden board." The already-famous Nicholas Brothers were on the Horn & Hardart show.

The very restrictive Philadelphia Blue Laws were in effect, so on Sunday, all 'devil's music' had to cease. Joe remembered the Lincoln Theater—Philly's version of the Apollo Theater—on Sundays: "The bands which came through and played there all had to improvise for one hour on Sunday morning to what we did, as they couldn't play their music. I ended up playing [backed] by every major band that came through, Henderson, Calloway, Basie all played for us."

Already a road veteran with the Dictators, but still in school, Joe remembered playing in Annapolis one summer and seeing a band led by someone called 'Banjo Bernie." "He had an entire show package: orchestras, singers, bands, dancers," said Joe. "In one of those bands the alto player was one Charlie Parker." Wilder remembers Parker as a friendly guy, much-admired for his genius playing. "It was hot, and he would sit up in his non-air conditioned hotel room with the window open and practice, in every key. Slow, fast. I made a mental note to play that way when I got home."

Wilder once played in a Philly symphonic band that also included one of Bird's future band mates, trumpeter Red Rodney—then known by his given name, Robert Chudnick—and clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. Wilder faced an uncomfortable racial moment during a band photo shoot. He was in a solo chair, and as such, prominently placed in the photo. The principal presumably didn't like having a black man occupying such a central position in the photo, and asked Wilder to remove himself to a lesser position. DeFranco, among other fellow players, rose to Joe's defense and came down heavily on the principal, who reluctantly allowed him to remain where had been all along.

These and other incidents convinced Wilder that his future lay elsewhere. Walter "Gil" Fuller was then arranging for Earl "Fatha" Hines. Fuller had heard Wilder in Annapolis and Philly and recommended him to Fatha, who was in need of a new lead trumpeter. About that time Joe also got a call from Les Hite, a California-based bandleader whose group had also employed Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton. "[Hite] had called me while he was on the road, and I accepted," said Joe. "My mother saw me off at the bus terminal saying, 'When you get to Lansing [Michigan, where the Hite band was], you behave yourself and don't do anything that disgraces the family.' I was on the bus with my luggage under the seat, and got all these people looking at me. That's how I got out of Philly. Britt Woodman was the trombone player and his brother Coney was the pianist."

Joe remained with Hite, who liked to cavort about the stage, for a year. He remembers playing the Howard Theatre when Dizzy Gillespie, ex-Calloway cut-up, joined the band. "Despite his previous disastrous altercation with Calloway [there was a blade involved] Dizzy was clownishly impersonating Hite's downstage antics and finally got caught in the act. The curtain came down and Hite announced, 'Everybody, you've got two weeks notice.' Lionel [Hampton] must have been looking over my shoulder, because I got a call from his people asking me if I was available. Of course, I said yes, because Hite had just fired the whole band. When we went into Hite's office to collect our checks Les told me that the firing didn't apply to me; he just had to get rid of Dizzy because he was afraid of another Cab incident." Nevertheless, Wilder stayed true to his word. He worked the rest of that week with Hite, then went with Hampton. "Not one of my best moves," Joe said. "It was like slavery: he played one player against the other. If you opened your mouth about anything, no matter how unjust, you were fired. I saw so many mean things; I never got over it."

Then came World War II. "I was 1A and I knew I'd be going soon. But there was a rule that if you were with a band and one of your dates was near a military base, you had to play a concert as a morale booster. I had registered in California which I thought gave me four or five weeks more of freedom. It seems that those fellas at the draft board knew more about me than I did, because when we got to Philadelphia there was a notice awaiting me at my mother's home to appear. Honestly, if I hadn't been drafted I would have left Lionel's band anyhow. I was that unhappy. If there was a referendum on the ballot to reinstate slavery I believe Lionel and his wife would have voted for it. For example, say we traveled 300 miles to a dance. We'd get there in time for a quick rinse and a meal. But Lionel would call a rehearsal for an hour. We were due to play four hours of hard music and Lionel would call encores for another half hour, without pay, of course."

Meanwhile, back at the draft board Joe was told they were "not accepting non-combatants in the Army, Navy or Coast Guard, but the Marine Corps was accepting Negroes. 'Did I want to join the Marines?' I said, sure, at least I'd learn to fight. My platoon, the 44th, brought the number of black Marines to 1000. My commanding officer was Bobby Troup ('Route 66'). He got me out of a fighting unit—I was a hell of a shot—and into a band. We subsequently became close friends. I became assistant bandmaster of the headquarters band, and got to back up Louis Armstrong on a morale tour. Louis remembered me from the Philly kiddies show telling me, [he impersonated the Louis growl] 'I always knew you would make it.'"

A law passed during wartime mandated that vets be offered a position by their former employer after leaving the service. So in 1946 Joe was rehired…by Hamp! "I was very unhappy [about that]. But now I was on another level. The Marines had taught me to think for myself, and some of the things that Hampton threw at me I didn't like. As soon as I got the chance I quit."

His next gig was with Jimmie Lunceford. Joe sat back, smiled and said loudly "Finally!" The other trumpet players were Snooky Young and Gerald Wilson. His euphoria was short-lived, however, for Lunceford suffered a severe heart attack prior to a dance in Seaside, Oregon in 1947—a day after yet another distasteful racial incident, where they were refused service in Seattle. "After the constabulary was called, the owner was told to serve us or close. She closed and never reopened." The next day Lunceford appeared at a record shop to sign autographs. "Jimmie suffered something akin to indigestion and just toppled over. Boom! He died on the way to a hospital. He was already dead, actually."

Lunceford demanded his players act responsibly. "Jimmie was one of those concerned bandleaders. He was concerned about the black image," said Joe. "He was concerned about drinking on the bandstand. If he caught you drunk or nodding he'd quietly sidle up you and whisper, 'This one's on you.' In other words, you're not getting paid for tonight. Other times, he'd make a reservation at a restaurant and when the band would thank him for his largess he'd say, 'Don't thank me; thank …' and he'd rattle off the offenders' names and the dates of the offense, as they were paying the bill."

After the Lunceford band met its untimely demise, Wilder went with Herbie Fields, another Hampton parolee who learned his lessons well. "He was almost as bad as Hamp," Joe said. Fields was the first integrated band Wilder played with. "It was okay, but the problems persisted. In Chicago I stayed in one hotel for one night and had to leave by 8 a.m. I then moved in with Johnny Griffin, whose mother owned a big house on the other side of town."

After Herbie, Joe went with Sam Donohue's band, then Lucky Millender's. With every band there was a racial vignette, each sounding painfully like the last: Band walks into an establishment in the north; band is refused service; words are exchanged; no violence erupts; band walks away. There will never be a movie made from that scenario, nor will it ever make the late night news. Such incidents might have been more common than those we are more accustomed to hearing about, yet they did not advance the cause of integration. It took a bus seat in Birmingham to do that.

There was a funny one, though. The integrated Millender band was playing Charleston, when the police accosted them. Joe: "There were six white guys in the band. One was someone named Porky Cohen, a chunky fella. The cops asked him if he was colored. Porky Cohen, pink of face and eyes of blue, had a lisp, answered, 'Why thertainly.' One cop turned to the other and said, 'Well, if they all admit to being colored, guess there's nothing wrong with that.'" It was all about playing the game. They played the dance that night as well. "An interesting aspect about Lucky was that he wasn't a musician, yet he knew good musicianship," recalled Joe. "If he liked what he heard, he paid you what you wanted."

While he was with Lucky, Wilder got a call from Duke Ellington. "He wanted me to join his band. I was so flattered I couldn't believe it." Seems that he had heard about Wilder from his "fellows," and Duke wanted him in the band. "I was all over him with compliments like, 'I'm a fan of Cootie [Williams] and Rex [Stewart]' and 'you were my father's favorite; he had pictures of you all over the house,' you know, stuff like that." Then came the following colloquy. Ellington: "When can you join us?" Wilder: "I have to give Lucky two weeks notice. What are you paying? After all I have a family. Ellington wouldn't say how much, only that there wasn't much money around. I told him what I was getting with Lucky. I told him that as much as I would love to, it was not good business to play for less." Duke demurred, and the deal was never consummated.

The year was 1948 and the jazz world was rife with bebop. Noise was being made both in Harlem and on "The Street," West 52nd St. Wilder got in on the history-making by joining Dizzy Gillespie's ground-breaking big band. Wilder's band mates included such luminaries as the pianist John Lewis, bassist Al McKibbon, drummer Joe Harris, vibist Milt Jackson, trumpeter Lamar Wright, Jr., and baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne. "We were doing a concert," Joe remembered, "when the emcee, who was British, introduced Cecil—which is a British name after all—as 'Satchel.' [There was a famous black baseball pitcher around at the time.] Amazingly he got the name of tune right, 'Oop Bop Sh'bam.'" Dizzy was not only a good player, but a terrific bandleader, said Joe. "Everything was done to perfection." When asked if moving from a swing band to a bebop band changed his style at all, Joe said that he'd already learned a lot of the innovative syncopations from his early band books. "So bebop didn't affect me all that much." He didn't stay with Dizzy's band long. "When the band was scheduled to go to Europe, the money was not that good. So I decided not to go with him. Diz tried to tempt me by saying, jokingly I hope, 'Think of all those white girls!'"

1950 found Wilder in Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe in New York's Times Square with Noble Sissle's band. "Someone heard me there and asked me if I'd like to do a Broadway show. I had to give Noble two weeks. Noble said, 'You know, young man this could be a break for you, so I'll let you go without the notice. But if you don't come back within the two weeks I'll have to get a replacement for you.' I thought that was very nice." The show was a revue called Alive and Kicking, and starred Carl Reiner, Jack Gilford, David Burns, Bobby Van, and Gwen Verdon. The show ran only seven weeks, but Wilder was so good that Sissle took him back with the admonition that if he did it again, he would be permanently replaced.

Well, he did it, again, and asked Sissle, again, and was granted leave, again. "Only this time, the show was 'Guys and Dolls' which continues to be revived." Joe boasted, "I didn't have to go back with Noble after that. The pits can be a lifetime job. And you had to dress up," Joe remarked. "Unlike today's players, who you never see due to the stage overhang … [they] tend to dress more casually. We wore tuxedoes, or at least dark suits.

"Cole Porter's Silk Stockings was the first show I did where there was an African-American in a first chair: me." Producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin, who booked the show into Boston and Philadelphia, were furious. "With all the trumpet players in New York City you hired a nigger?!" one shouted at the leader. "I came this close to ending my career with one punch," said Joe. "I kept saying to myself, 'Think of Jackie Robinson.' When they asked the composer, Mr. Porter, he retorted, 'Can the man play my music?' That was it."

After that, there were Shenandoah and The Most Happy Fella. From there, Wilder joined the ABC studios. Not everyone was racist. He recalled doing a record date in a section with Billy Butterfield. Butterfield suggested that he would call Wilder if he could find something to throw Wilder's way. An ABC soap opera came along and Butterfield had a better paying gig elsewhere, so he recommended Wilder. After the session, one well-dressed guy was impressed and asked him to stop by his office. "I did not realize who he was, so I went home. A few days later I get a call from his secretary who asked me to come in for a few more gigs. I thanked her and said that I didn't know him. 'Funny,' she said. 'He asked you to stop by the last time you were here and you didn't show up.' The next time I went straight to his office. He said, 'Mr. Wilder. How do you expect to get ahead in the music business if you don't know a contractor when you see one?' Every time thereafter he would point to me and say 'He's Joe Wilder. He doesn't know a contractor when he sees one.' He asked if I would be interested in coming on staff." Joe remained with ABC for 17 years. In that time, he played the pits and the studios, but no jazz.

In 1962 he went on an infamous State Department tour of Soviet Russia with Benny Goodman's band. "The band was great but Benny was so difficult," remembered Joe. "The week before we were ready to leave, Benny called and told everybody that we had to take a $100 cut in salary. I refused but I had already sent my family to live with my wife's people in Sweden while I was on the tour. So he said how about $50?" Ultimately, they all agreed. When they got to the Embassy in Moscow, they cornered the liaison officer and peppered him with questions about the pay cut. "Turns out, the State Dept. had nothing to do with the pay; it was all Goodman's to dole out."

The contracts were not ready until the tour was underway. Wilder refused to sign, and felt repercussions. Return tickets and overweight luggage charges were withheld, for instance. "He wouldn't let me play my solos; he would cut to the out chorus," Joe said. The infamously tight Goodman didn't give in easily. "We went through the Union to get what was due. Jimmy Maxwell's son was supposed to be the band boy. I don't know if Goodman ever paid him. He had disagreed with Jimmy about updating the charts, so he had asked Jimmy not to play lead, but just come along on the trip."

Wilder's memories of the trip are not good. "We were supposed to show how we get along with each other. When we ate our meals Goodman would be at a table by himself with a little American flag, and we all would be someplace else. When Benny wanted his translator whose name he had forgotten, he would whistle as if calling his dog. The Russians despised him. They looked like they wanted to kill him." [Joe related a third-person story of a proposed Harry Belafonte Russian tour, when every time Goodman's name was mentioned in the negotiations "the Russians spit on the floor." The Belafonte tour never materialized.] Mission to Moscow, a double LP recorded during the tour, was later issued by Columbia. It and a tongue-in-cheek successor, entitled Jazz Mission to Moscow under the leadership of Phil Woods on the Colpix label, are collectors' items. "I have never listened to [the recording]; it's too depressing."

Upon Joe's return from Russia, Abe (Glenn) Osser hired him to work the Miss American Pageant. Wilder held that gig for 22 years—only the second African-American member to play in that orchestra. He was also a member of the New York Philharmonic when trumpet parts were prominent. He was a member of the Symphony of the New World, the first completely integrated orchestra in New York, for six years.

Over the years there have been occasional jazz recording dates. In the '50s he recorded as leader for Savoy and Columbia. His two Columbia albums, The Pretty Sound of Joe Wilder and Jazz from "Peter Gunn", have been reissued as a single CD. In 1991, Ed Berger and Benny Carter approached him about recording for their Evening Star label. He's since recorded three albums for Evening Star: Alone With Just My Dreams, No Greater Love, and Among Friends.

Regrets: "There is nothing I have done that any other trumpet player could not have done. If I was playing lead in a Broadway show there were two or three other trumpeters who contributed to it." Wilder doesn't seem to regret not having gone with Ellington, or not being more confrontational towards the racists. "My father wanted me to meet Benny Carter. 'Listen to that man,' he would say.' It would have been regretful had I not [met him]. But I finally did, and we became really close. When I told my father he came very near disbelieving me." [While on the subject of Benny Carter we were interrupted by the sounds of the Warfield band rehearsing Carter's famous arrangement of "Honeysuckle Rose." A small bit of irony which drew guffaws and slapped palms.]

Codas:

Bill Warfield: Trumpet playing bandleader, arranger, educator Warfield came down to our 802 basement lair as his rehearsal time ended. He gushed in the presence of the Master. "Joe Wilder has been among my idols since as far back as I can remember," he said. "He can and has done everything on the trumpet. He doesn't have to formally teach a thing; his examples are enough."

Ed Berger: In addition to being the primary mover at Evening Star, Berger is a curator at the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies in Newark, NJ. Both he and Joe are photographers, and as such are rarely seen without some paraphernalia dangling from around their necks. Berger had this to say about his friend and colleague.

"Joe's sterling personal qualities are at one with his musicianship. He is one of the most considerate and caring people I have ever met. Many of the same qualities that distinguish his playing—warmth, wit, and sophistication—are simply an extension of Joe Wilder, the person. He is a man of wide interests and talents, from cooking to photography. (As if his impeccable musicianship were not enough to ensure his position as one of New York's first-call studio players, the fact that, more often than not, he would show up at a session with a homemade cheesecake or cookies for the band didn't hurt!) As an African-American musician coming of age in the late 1930s and 1940s, Joe encountered more than his share of indignities and disappointments. In a sense, his entire career has been devoted to breaking down barriers: in the conservatories and classical world, as one of the first black Marines, in the Broadway show orchestras, and the New York studios. In all of these settings, he triumphed through sheer talent and hard work, and emerged without a scintilla of bitterness and with his dignity and humor intact."

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June 03, 2009 · 6 comments

  • 1 Larry Kraman // Jun 06, 2009 at 12:44 PM
    What a gem of a story. Thanks!
  • 2 Jon Foley // Jun 08, 2009 at 04:55 PM
    Excellent article; I know more about Joe Wilder now than I ever have, even though I've been listening to him for years. I just finished hearing his beautiful work on the Tom Talbert "Bix, Duke, Fats" album on Lonehill, and mention also should be made of his work on the famous Gunther Schuller/John Lewis "Music For Brass" album. One minor quibble: When was Madame Margaret Chaloff ever a teacher in the Philadelphia area? I was under the impression she spent her entire career in Boston, where her husband Julius was a pianist in the Boston Symphony.
  • 3 Bill Bridges // Jun 08, 2009 at 11:21 PM
    While not mentioned in the article, Joe Wilder also recorded a classical album for Golden Crest records, including Sonata for Trumpet and Piano by Alec Wilder, the Andante from the Haydn Concerto, and The Swan, by Saint Saens.
  • 4 King Casey // Jun 09, 2009 at 04:59 AM
    Joe wilder is one of my favorite trumpet players. I remember they played him on the radio once. It was amazing because at first i actually thought it was J.Teagarden on trambone but then quickly realized it was one of my new favorite trumpet players! He plays similar to B.Hackett but has his own original sound.
  • 5 arnold jay smith // Jun 11, 2009 at 12:26 PM
    Mr. Foley is correct. Madam Chaloff taught in Boston. Joe & I were chatting about famous teaches and we mixed metaphors. Sorry.
  • 6 Fran McIntyre // Jun 23, 2009 at 03:46 AM
    Joe's story is historical and elegant. Most of all I love being in touch with a Master. His photographs show his journey and need to be displayed for the "World to see". I can hear the friendship! Keep up the work A>J>