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*Gerald Wilson was born on this date in 1918. He was a Black trumpeter, arranger, bandleader, and educator.
A native of Shelby, Mississippi, he spent his teenage years in Detroit and took up trumpet there. He was selected at age 21 to join Jimmie Lunceford's band, where he spent four years playing, composing and arranging. He settled in Los Angeles after leaving Lunceford, then played and wrote for the Benny Carter and Les Hite bands.
Wilson formed his own band in 1944, touring the country and recording. Toward the end of the '40s, he worked with Count Basie as a trumpeter-arranger and then joined Dizzy Gillespie. Also during that time Wilson began to contribute to the Duke Ellington band's book and wrote arrangements for singers Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, and Ray Charles.
Although somewhat in obscurity, he continued to work in the '70s, composing works for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, teaching at California State University Northridge, and playing host on a daily radio show; continuing to record in the '80s too. Despite a long career with many highlights, Wilson’s name should be far more widely known.
Perhaps the lack of recognition is directly attributable to his long residence in Southern California, a situation that has caused similar problems for other talented jazz musicians. His signing by MAMA Records in the '90s has brought a new resurgence with outstanding recordings and a two-CD oral history, Suite Memories. In 1996, the Library of Congress bestowed a rare honor on Gerald and archived his life's work.
His exciting and expanded version of Gershwin's "Summertime" debuted with his band at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C. during the summer of 1997. Wilson's most recent success was a work commissioned for the Monterey Jazz Festival's 40th anniversary.
The composition entitled, "Theme for Monterey" premiered there on September 21, 1997, with his 19-piece Orchestra. He currently teaches at UCLA. The Los Angeles Jazz Society acknowledged his outstanding contributions in 2001. Gerald Wilson died in September 2014.
All That Jazz The Illustrated Story of Jazz Music
General Editor: Ronald Atkins
Copyright 1996, Carlton Books Limited