Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gerald Wilson - Then and Now: Part 2

© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.





“Gerald has an uncanny harmonic sense which produces quite an emotional experience.” 
– Richard Bock

“Wilson’s writing leans toward thick, textured sounds in which the arrangements are as prominent as the soloists.” – Ted Gioia
“Your first ten years are thrown away. If you did pretty good for those ten years, you’re just starting.” 
- Gerald Wilson to Pete Watrous

“Writing is easy for me now. Writing is just a memory anyway – you just remember everything you learned and just put it down.”
- Gerald Wilson to Jon Garelick


“The legacy of Gerald Wilson and the Monterey Jazz Festival are closely linked. From his first visits to Monterey in the early 1960's playing and hanging out with Diz and Monk to his commission pieces for our 25th, 40th and now 50th anniversary, Gerald's spirit has infused the festival with his unique brand of artistry, humanity and pure, swingin' fun. Gerald Wilson and the Monterey Jazz Festival have helped create a vibrant and long-lasting west coast musical spirit. It's a great partnership and we are honored to be associated with him!” 
--Tim Jackson, General Manager, Monterey Jazz Festival

“Playing with Gerald Wilson is always such a joy and an inspiration, as is hearing the results. … you'll also discover Gerald Wilson the person ... intelligent, wise, full of joy and classy, just like his compositions.” 
--Jon Faddis
“Gerald Wilson is one of the greatest composers and arrangers living today. Monterey Moods, is another example of his genius.” 
--Kenny Burrell
“Gerald Wilson's longevity with his creativity alone gives testimony to his value as an international treasure.” 
--Hubert Laws




No doubt one of the reasons that for many of us the Gerald Wilson Orchestra of the decade of the 1960's seemed to appear fully formed from out of nowhere was due to the scarcity of available recordings that featured earlier variants of his orchestra.

Jazz fans should all give thanks to the advent of the compact disc, because it has helped bring forward some of the exciting, earlier recordings from Mr. Wilson’s Orchestra
.
Thankfully, too, Richard Bock of Pacific Jazz Records and Albert Marx of Discovery/Trend Records stepped in to prevent this scarcity from spreading further with a veritable explosion of Mr. Wilson on record in the 1960's.

Longevity has not diminished Mr. Wilson’s creative powers and this along with his accumulated body of work has afforded him a stature that has resulted in a number of recordings that continued to document his work well into the first decade of the 21st century.

This 2nd portion of the feature on Mr. Wilson will spend time with reviews of some of these recordings - “Then and Now?”
It will also delve into Mr. Wilson’s treatment of melody, harmony, rhythm and texture that combined to make his composing and arranging styles so distinctive.

Before doing so, let’s turn to Doug Ramsey’s always informative and insightful insert notes to The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra [Mosaic MD5-198] for a brief review of the salient features of Mr. Wilson’s career.

© - Copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“The great lead trumpeter and soloist Snooky Young left Count Basie in 1944 to join a new band Gerald Wilson had formed in Los Angeles. "Everybody thought I was crazy for leaving Basie to go with Gerald," Young said on a National Public Radio Jazz Profiles program, "but it was a friendship thing. I wasn't aware of doing anything crazy and I didn't, because it was very good for me to play with Gerald's first band. We went on to New York and played the Apollo Theater, and for a young, new band, we did a lot of big things."

If Young was gambling, he hedged his bet with inside information. From the days when they sat together in the Jimmie Lunceford trumpet section, he knew the 26-year-old Wilson's abilities as a player and a composer-arranger. Wilson's early work for Lunceford sent advance notice of a writer who brought a new kind of harmonic richness to big band arranging. Musicians across the country took notice, as did an 11-year-old fan who said the Lunceford band was what made him decide in 1941 to become a musician. "There were two tunes that Gerald Wilson wrote for that band that just laid me out," pianist and composer Horace Silver said on Jazz Profiles. "They were on the same record, flip sides. One was called In SPOOK. The other was called YARD DOG MAZURKA. The arrangements and the melodies knocked me out."

Silver was not alone in his admiration. In 1946, Ray Wetzel purloined the essential elements Of YARD DOG MAZURKA to make INTERMISSION RIFF for the Stan Kenton band.

The few recordings of Wilson's 1944-1947 band make it plain that the notice and excitement it caused were justified. Pieces like CRUISIN' WITH CAB, DISSONANCE IN BLUE and his arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s GROOVIN' HIGH establish that this young leader achieved a canny balance between the proven values of swing and the challenging innovations of bebop. The band was a hit in Los Angeles in its debut engagement of two months at Shepp's Playhouse, followed by a run at the Orpheum Theater, then dates in San Francisco, Oakland, Denver and at New York's Apollo Theater. At the Apollo, Wilson and his men followed Duke Ellington. The Daily News wrote, "A young band from California opened at the Apollo today, and you wouldn't know that Duke Ellington had closed."


There was something new and unusual in the density of Wilson's chord voicings, particularly in the brass section. In an oral history inter-view for the MAMA archives, Wilson said of his work in those years, "My record of GROOVIN' HIGH (1945) proves that we were the most adventurous orchestra of the year. No other bands were into what we did. My players were all playing bebop. My pianist, Jimmy Bunn, was on Charlie Parker’s LOVER MAN session. We had an arrangement of OUT OF THIS WORLD that I reharmonized the structure for - I used all alternate chords. If the [original] chord was B-flat minor, I used the alternative, D-flat major. About everything was alternate. Also, I used a couple of tempo changes."

And yet, Wilson's use of ideas - known in 20th-century classical music but rare in jazz - attracted listeners who might have been intimidated by a band like Boyd Raeburn's that was taking such notions a step or two further. It was not out of the question to mention Wilson's band in the same breath as Basie's, Ellington's, Herman's and Kenton's. Although the economic indicators were not good for continuation of he big band boom, it may be that Wilson had the talent, leadership ability and charisma to carry him through the hard times that caused most of the nation's big bands to fold by the end of the decade. He signed a three-year contract with Mercury Records. His band recorded with Dinah Washington, broke all attendance records in St. Louis on a tour with Ella Fitzgerald, was set to tour for 15 weeks in a package with Louis Jordan's phenomenally popular band. After less than three years as a bandleader, Wilson was at the top.

He thought he had gotten there too soon. In 1947, he disbanded. "I decided when I closed with Ella that I was going to have to study some more. I wanted to be able to write anything," he told Jazz Profiles. "I wanted to be able to write for the symphony orchestra; I wanted to write for the movies; I wanted to write for television. I wanted to be able to do it with great speed, great accuracy, and that's what I did. But I didn't stop playing."


Wilson holed up with scores, analyzing works by Stravinsky, Debussy, Falla, Ravel, Kabalevsky, Khatchaturian, Bartok. In a prodigy of self-teaching, he absorbed the techniques of those classical masters. He would apply their lessons for all the years of his long career. He achieved each of his goals, including works for symphony orchestra, motion pictures and TV, but especially writing prolifically for big bands, his own and others. Half a year into his study exile, he got a call from another leader asking him for help. It was Duke Ellington. He wrote for Ellington off and on for most of the rest of Duke's life, and occasionally filled out the trumpet section when Ellington needed an additional horn. Later in 1948, he joined Count Basie, playing and writing. "That was study, too," he says, "sitting where swing really happened. That great rhythm section was really the common denominator for swing." After Basic disbanded in 1949, Wilson joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band. For Basic he wrote the lovely ballad KATY and with Basie composed ST. LOUIS BABY. For Gillespie he arranged GUARACHI GUARO, which became influential in the development of Latin jazz in the '40s and had a second life when Cal Tjader adapted it in the '50s. During all of that extracurricular activity, Wilson continued studying and preparing for his next steps.

Before long, Gillespie Joined the parade of disbanders, forced out of the band business by changing economics, tastes and culture. Billie Holiday's manager asked Wilson to put together a big band to back the singer on a tour. Johnny Coles, Philly Joe Jones, Melba Liston, Willie Cook and a number of other fine musicians were among his players. Despite the quality ingredients, the venture did not go well. Crowds were small. "We were out on the road not making any money," Gerald says, "and Melba and I wound up feeding the guys and paying their rent and we went broke." He returned to Los Angeles.

In 1950, Wilson was music director for an L.A. television musical variety program than ran for six months. He arranged and conducted, but was never shown on the screen. Through the 1950s that was typical television policy regarding black musicians. In 1951, Gerald and his wife Josefina moved to San Francisco. His band in the Bay Area included trombonist Bob Collins, pianist Cedric Haywood, and two saxophonists, Jerry Dodgion and Jerome Richardson, who would become mainstays of the New York jazz scene in the late '50s and early '60s.

Back in Los Angeles in 1954, Wilson put together a band, in what was the beginning of what he describes as his commercial period, which lasted for most of the '50s. "I was doing a lot of writing in those days for shows, at the Moulin Rouge in Las Vegas and other places, and for rhythm and blues artists, Jackie Davis among others. My deal in those days was mostly writing and orchestrating. The big band worked whenever we had an engagement."

Richard Bock, president of Pacific Jazz records, had a roster of some of the most prominent musicians in what had come to be called the West Coast Jazz movement. They included Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Bud Shank and Bob Gordon. Bock did not have a big band on his label.
"I knew Dick Bock and had followed his work," Wilson told me. "The first time I approached him about recording, in 1953, was at a Billy Eckstine record date I was visiting. And there were other occasions through the '50s when I ran into him and brought it up. He explained that, for various reasons, it was hard to record a big band. But in 1960, he called me. He had set up a deal through Albert Marx to record me."


Wilson was under contract to Marx, the president of Discovery and Trend Records. Bock recorded the successful series of Gerald Wilson albums for Pacific Jazz, but Marx owned the records. As they do today, Wilson's sidemen constituted a cross section of Los Angeles jazz players, black and white, youngsters and veterans, from the studios and the clubs. They had in common the musicianship Wilson could quickly observe and sometimes sense in a potential member. His leadership is based on mutual respect and his magnetism, not on strictness. He has more in common with Ellington and Herman than with disciplinarians like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Buddy Rich. Trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez, who has played for Wilson in recent years, talked on the NPR program about the first time he saw Wilson in action.

"The way he moved his hands, the way he grouped the guys together, his ability to talk, his ability to laugh, make the audience have fun. It was his whole impact, not just the 18-piece orchestra, but his person."
"I don't have any pep talks with my men at all," Wilson says. "We hardly rehearse, unless we're going to make a recording date. Maybe we'll run it over once or twice, not like these bands that rehearse every week. The music's there and it's always going to be a certain quality. I don't get angry at the guys when they miss a note. It doesn't bother me. jazz, to me, has to be loose. You can't be tight. When you get too tight in jazz, it isn't making it. Same thing with Duke Ellington. He let his band be relaxed, be loose, take it easy. Nobody gets excited here. You're late? Okay, so you're late. Let's play." ….

Wilson’s writing is absolutely up to date, or a bit beyond, while observing the eternal blues truths.

And so it remains in performances by his orchestras of the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and a new century, in the ears, hearts and minds of his listeners, and in tangible form in the nation’s capitol. In 1996, the Library of Congress honored Wilson’s lifetime achievement by establishing a Gerald Wilson archive. Generations of musicians, scholars and admirers will be able to study a comprehensive collection of his compositions, arrangements, orchestrations and recordings….”

Before moving on to a review of some of the recordings in Mr. Wilson’s discography, perhaps an effort might be made at identifying those characteristics that make his style so distinctive.

In this regard, it might be helpful to keep the following distinction by author Mark Gridley from his Jazz Styles: History and Analysis in mind:

“By comparison with all other big bands, the Wilson band achieved a groove that more closely resembles hard bop. The moods were funky and earthy, as though Wilson had created a big-band equivalent to the organ/tenor sax combos that were common at inner city taverns during the 1950’s and 1960s.” [p. 291]


Also helpful is the following representation by Ted Gioia from his West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 which bears repeating from the opening quotations to this piece:

Wilson’s writing leans toward thick textured sounds in which the arrangements are as prominent as the soloists. Some have traced a Kenton influence in his work …” [p. 142].

Both Gridley and Gioia focus on the “texture” of Mr. Wilson’s music.
As we shall see, a number of other writers in their reviews of Mr. Wilson’s recordings also stress the “texture” of his music as something that makes it so unique and so appealing.

But what is a musical definition of “texture” which joins with melody, harmony and rhythm [meter] as a fourth building block used to create a musical composition?

Ironically, of these four basic musical atoms, the most indefinable yet the one we first notice is – texture.

Texture is the word that is used to refer to the actual sound of the music. This encompasses the instruments with which it is played; its tonal colors; its dynamics; its sparseness or its complexity.

Texture involves anything to do with the sound experience and it is the word that is used to describe the overall impression that a piece of music creates in our emotional imagination.

Often our first and most lasting impression of a composition is usually based on that work’s texture, even though we are not aware of it. Generally, we receive strong musical impressions from the physical sound of any music and these then determine our emotional reaction to the work.

Beyond the texture or sound of his music and the lasting physical and emotional impact it can create, Mr. Wilson’s music is also heavily rhythmic – the most visceral and fundamental of all the musical elements.

Music takes place in time and like many great composers, Mr. Wilson uses rhythms and the relationships between rhythms to express many moods and musical thoughts.

He uses rhythm to provide a primal, instinctive kind of foundation for the other musical thoughts [themes and motifs] to build upon.
This combination of powerful, repetitive rhythmic phrases and the manner in which he textures the sound of his music over them provides many of Mr. Wilson’s compositions with a magisterial quality.


Another of Mr. Wilson’s great skills as a composer is that he never seems to be at a loss for the new rhythms that he needs to create musical interest in his work. He is a master at using the creative tension between unchanging meter and constantly changing rhythms and these rhythmic variations help to produce a vitality in his music.
In his use of melody, Mr. Wilson’s approach to composing, arranging and orchestrating appears to have much in common with the Classical composers of the late 18th and early 19th century [Mozart & Beethoven as examples] in that he relies on a series of measured and balanced musical phrases as the mainstay of much of his work.
And like these Classical composers, Mr. Wilson is also careful not to let one musical element overwhelm the others: balance between elements is as important as balance within any one of them.

Mr. Wilson obviously places a high value on melody in his writing as his themes have a way of finding themselves into one’s subconscious and staying there a la – “I can’t get this tune out of my head.”

This is in large part because Mr. Wilson’s melodies are actually easily remembered short phrases, generally four or eight bars in length and these are often heard in combination with other similar phrases to fashion something akin to a musical mosaic with individual pieces joining together to create a musical whole.

Mr. Wilson crafts little melodic devices that are wonderful examples of the composer’s art. And he has learned over the years to base his compositions out of the fewest possible melodic building blocks because if there too many melodies, or for that matter, too many rhythms and too many different chords in a piece, the listener can get confused and eventually bored.

And on the subject of chords, the building blocks of harmony, here Mr. Wilson’s approach involving multi-part harmony is more akin to modern composers such as Debussy, Bartok and Stravinsky than to those of the Classical period.


Mr. Wilson pioneered the application of 8-part harmony to Jazz writing for big bands. Turning again to Doug Ramsey’s insert notes to the Mosaic set of Mr. Wilson’s Pacific Jazz recordings, he explains that “I asked the composer and orchestrator Jeff Sultanoff about the use of eight-part harmony in jazz and Wilson’s role in it. Sultanoff said:
“As Gerald defines it, it means that in an eight-part brass section, all parts are different, no doubling octaves and such. He was probably the first to do this, although other arrangers had tried similar things. I can think of Pete Rugolo as an immediate example, but he did not start doing it until 1946, whereas Gerald claims that he was doing it as early as 1945. I can also think of Ellington and Strayhorn who did not voice ensembles in the “standard” way. There are isolated examples of it in Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan’s work, but I don’t recall anyone doing it on a regular basis before Gerald.”

While it is always challenging at best to attempt to describe music in words, this overview of Mr. Wilson’s use of the four musical atoms – rhythm, melody, harmony and texture – may be helpful to listen for as we now turn to a review of selections from his discography.
As was noted earlier, the advent of the compact discs has once again made available music by artists who were recording before the advent of the 33 1/3 rpm long-playing album and/or who were recording for very small and relatively obscure labels [Excelsior and Black & White!].

Although, Mr. Wilson’s first recordings fall into both of these categories, many of them can now be found on three CD reissues: [1] Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1945-46 [The Classic Chronological Series #976], [2] Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1946-54 [The Classic Chronological Series #1444]; Big Band Modern [The Jazz Factory JFCD 22880].


The movie writer and actor Les Carter was quoted in Arnold Schenker’s insert notes to Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1945-46 as saying:

“Gerald does all things well. He is a craftsman in every way. He hand picks the musicians carefully, he selects the material, and then he bolsters the band and the audience with his own enthusiasm and exuberance. Gerald is a total musician. He touches all bases, and like a good a good director he is the man in charge.”

Three of the highlights on this CD for me are Mr. Wilson’s arrangements of Groovin’ High, Cruisin’ with Cab and One O’clock Jump, all of which indicate the very innovative direction his big band arranging was taking at this early date.

And Richard Cook and Brian Morton offer these observations in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD:

“After a short stint in the Navy at the end of the Second World War, the talented trumpeter and composer decided to form his own band. It was a progressive outfit [with a] faintly experimental air … [and] these early recordings are full of interest.

Although he features as a trumpeter on Duke’s “Come Sunday” his main role is as arranger, turning in crisp, intelligent charts which anticipate the work of later years. There is already a signature Wilson sound: slightly dark, over-toned, regular without being robotic. … Even when the sound is less than pristine, the content I always involving.”


And here is Michael Nastos excellent and comprehensive review of Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1946-54 as written for www.allmusic.com:

After leaving Detroit and arriving in Los Angeles, Gerald Wilson formed his first big band in 1944. By 1946 he was firmly established as a fine trumpet player, arranger, and composer, and was developing a style fit not only for modern jazz, but also eventually film scores. The dramatics apropos for both formats is evident on this second installment of Wilson's chronological recordings for the Classics reissue label, culled from recordings originally on the Black & White, United Artists, Excelsior, Federal, King, and Audio Lab labels.

There are five different mid-sized orchestras with musicians from L.A., all quite literate and displaying different areas of expertise, and Wilson writes with each player's individual sound in mind. Of course they work as a unified whole, and you get to hear a lot of Wilson's trumpet work.
The Black & White sessions from 1946 have the band swinging very hard on the happy bop-bop "Et-ta," while hoppin' and barkin' for "The Saint." The opposite slow side is shown on "Pensive Mood" and the sad, dreary "The Moors." These tracks feature then-young trombonist, composer, and arranger Melba Liston, who of course would go on to great acclaim. Recordings from 1947 for United Artists and Excelsior feature vocalist Dan Grissom, showcased on two ballads, displaying a large range and somewhat effeminate style, and there's a finger-snappin' group vocal with Grissom, Liston, and Trummy Young, "Va-ance," that approaches the territory of the Modernaires.

Four more for Excelsior in 1949 reveal Wilson moving into film noir, hinted at by the spy movie piece "Dissonance in Blues" from the 1947 cuts, but more pronounced here. Wilson is assertive on his horn, and ramps up the dramatic tension on the stairstep motif of "The Black Rose" while also offering an expanded version of "Guarachi-Guaro," the second section infusing expansive oboe and flute. Here the outstanding West Coast alto saxophonist Buddy Collette also enters the fray.

Jumping up to 1954, Wilson offers up three two-part pieces all prominently showcasing the exotic vibrato flute sound of Bill Green — the hot and spicy "Mambo Mexicano," dynamic up-and-down desert dune caravan-ish "Algerian Fantasy," and slow-as-sunset "Lotus Land." These are much more provocative, but in addition, the band is loaded with all-stars like trumpeter Clark Terry, trombonist Britt Woodman, tenor saxophonists Paul Gonsalves and Teddy Edwards, and a very young Jerry Dodgion on alto sax. These cuts use pronounced world music elements in a way that Duke Ellington hinted at, and all are exuberant and levitating. The remaining pieces are the contradictory titled hard bopper "Romance," Khachaturian’s famous Spanish classical ballad "Bull Fighter," and a different "Black Rose" (unknown author) than the one written by Wilson heard earlier on the CD. This collection really drives home how this group, unique unto itself, was able to stretch stereotypical big-band jazz and take it into a new arena, fueled by the vast imagination of Gerald Wilson. The only unsolved mystery: un-attributed credits about various clearly audible Latin percussionists who are never identified.”


Writing in his insert notes to Big Band Modern, Matias Rinar offer the following comments on the significance of the recordings and its music:

This release presents an ultra rare LP by the Gerald Wilson orchestra for the first time ever on CD. Although he recorded innumerable sessions as an arranger and as a trumpeter, this is the only studio session recorded by Wilson under his own name between 1947 and 1961, when he began a long term recording contract with Pacific records. The only exceptions to this are two short vocal sides that were also cut in L.A. in 1954, for the small label called "Hollywood", under the title "Linda Hayes accompanied by Gerald Wilson and his orchestra".
What makes "Big Band Modern" even more interesting is that six of the eight tunes on the album were composed by Wilson himself. The two remaining pieces were written by contemporary European composers. "Lotus Land" belongs to the eccentric English composer Cyril Scott (18791970), who was known as a poet and occultist, in addition to his work as a composer. A dear friend of Percy Grainger, Scott's music was admired by Debussy, Stravinsky and Richard Strauss. Originally written for the piano, "Lotus Land" is Scott's most famous piece, arranged here by Wilson for his big band. Aram Khachaturian's "Bull Fighter" is the album's only other composition not written by Wilson. A Russian composer of Armenian origin, Khachaturian (1903-1978) was one of the leading soviet composers of his time, along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich…..

Considering the dearth of Wilson’s recordings with his own band during this period, the 1950 concert recorded in San Francisco – which is included on this release as a bonus – is, without a doubt, an essential addition to Wilson’s recorded legacy, an extremely important discographic discovery. In fact, this concert has never been previously released on any format.

Of the concert's seven tracks, three of them - "Sea Breeze" and both versions of "Hollywood Freeway" - are compositions by Wilson, performed by his band with the addition of several superlative guest stars. Alto saxophonist Sonny Criss ... shines on the first version of "Hollywood Freeway", while the three tenor guests - none other than Stan Getz, Wardell Gray and Zoot Sims can be heard here in top form on the second one. The four standards are showcase pieces for the tenor soloists. We are fortunate to add two new performances to Wardell Gray's short discography. He plays here on "Nice Work if You Can Get It" and "Indiana". "Out of Nowhere" is a feature for Stan Getz (notice the way he quotes "Broadway"!). "It Had to Be You" is Zoot Sims' solo feature, but it is unfortunately incomplete at the tune's climax, because the original recording machine ran out of tape! However, Zoot can be heard well on the last orchestral tune.

Beyond the mentioned little inconvenience, the excellent sound quality of this concert is surprising. It was originally recorded in Stereo, which was a completely new technology in 1950. Together, both of these very rare sessions cover an interesting gap in Gerald Wilson's career, preceding the true gems that would come in the following years.”


And now we come to the bonanza that are the 1960s recordings by Mr. Wilson on the Pacific Jazz [8] and World Pacific [2] labels, all 10 of which have all been collected and reissued with superbly remixed audio quality as The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra [Mosaic MD5-198].

As has already been alluded to but bears repeating nonetheless, one shudders to think of what would have been the case for Mr. Wilson’s recording career had it not been for the perspicacity of Richard Bock and Albert Marx, the President of Discovery and Trend Records.


Between 1961 and 1969, ten albums – eight on Pacific Jazz and two on World Pacific – were recorded and issued under Mr. Wilson’s name [those Pacific Jazz LPs involving his work with trumpeter Carmell Jones and pianist/vocalist Les McCann are not included in the Mosaic set].
Ironically this gushing forth of recording activity for Mr. Wilson and his orchestra in the 1960s was occurring when the number of big bands was an ever-dwindling number. However, since Mr. Wilson chose to populate his orchestra with professionals musicians whose main livelihood was derived from work in the Hollywood studios, thus limiting it to local appearance and recordings, he was never subjected to the rigors of trying to make it on the road with his 1960’s orchestra.
Fortunately for Mr. Wilson, there was still enough of a big band Jazz market in existence in the 1960s and his exciting orchestra’s recordings did very well in terms of overall sales.

Here are two compendiums of the Mosaic The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra. The first is by C. Andrew Hovan writing in www.allaboutjazz.com:

“Even with the reissue boon that has resulted in so much obscure music seeing the light of day, certain artists have not fared well when it comes to the availability of their work. Dick Bock’s Pacific Jazz imprimatur falls under the Blue Note/Capitol umbrella, but past reissues have seemed to focus on “cool school” items with sets from Chet Baker, Bud Shank, and Bill Perkins being the norm. Hard bop artists such as Curtis Amy, Paul Bryant, Frank Butler, The Jazz Crusaders, Charles Kynard and Gerald Wilson have been much less represented in the entire scheme of things. In Wilson’s case, out of the ten albums he made during his stay with Pacific Jazz, only two have ever been reissued on CD in the United States. This sad state of affairs is certainly put right with Mosaic’s new packaging of the entire output of Wilson’s Pacific Jazz sides as a leader, although the terrific sessions he arranged for Les McCann and Carmel Jones are not included here and will hopefully see their own reissue at some later date.


With experience as an arranger for Jimmy Lunceford behind him, gifted writer and bandleader Gerald Wilson set up his own big band in 1944 and has actively maintained an ensemble of some kind or another ever since. By the time he hooked up with Dick Bock and Pacific Jazz in 1961, Wilson had already become one of the most distinguished composers and arrangers of his era. Unfortunately, the mere fact that he resided on the West Coast meant that he was not as well known to record buyers of the time as Count Basie or Duke Ellington. You Better Believe It is notable for the appearance of organist Groove Holmes, soon to become a major seller for Pacific Jazz in his own right. “The Wailer” and “Blues For Yna Yna” are particularly choice on this memorable maiden voyage.

The first of many tributes to matadors (bull fighting being one of Wilson’s favorite pastimes), “Viva Tirado” makes its appearance on Moment of Truth. The homage scheme reaches its ultimate fruition on Portraits, with pieces dedicated to matador Paco Camino, master musician Ravi Shankar, composer Aram Khachaturian, and jazz great Eric Dolphy. Soloists Joe Pass, Teddy Edwards, and Jack Wilson play prominent roles in all three of these aforementioned quintessential albums.

Giving a jazzy update to pop material of the day was not uncommon during the ‘60s. Duke Ellington, of course, made an entire album of his own version of the score from “Mary Poppins.” Wilson was also ingenious enough to handle such challenging assignments, although the closest he ever got to an entire album of pop-inflected material was on Feelin’ Kinda Blues. Even here though, Wilson’s integrity as an arranger comes shining through on such unlikely numbers as the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and James Browns’ “I Feel Good.”


The Golden Sword, from 1966, is one of the best Wilson albums of the entire Pacific Jazz lot and it features the “Latin tinge” that Jelly Roll Morton often spoke of, with bullfighting and Mexican motifs also exploited to their fullest. “Carlos” is another tribute to a bullfighter, in this case being Carlos Arruza. Other highly attractive pieces include “Blues Latinese” and “The Feather.” Never content to stay too long in one area however, it was back to more traditional forms for the next set which documented a few evenings from the bands’ stay at Marty’s On The Hill in Los Angeles. Trumpeter Charles Tolliver, a truly inventive talent who has yet to receive his dues, makes his debut with the band on this occasion and his own early masterpiece, “The Paper Man,” is part of the program.


The final threesome of Wilson albums for Pacific Jazz ( Everywhere, California Soul, and Eternal Equinox ) carries us through to the end of the ‘60s. Occasional pop material figured into the mix, such as “Light My Fire,” “Aquarius,” and “Sunshine of You Love,” yet Wilson’s ability to transcend material (Oliver Nelson was another genius in this department) insures that each of these albums has more than enough valuable music to make for an easy recommendation. In short, the entire body of work as presented in this collection is worthy of rediscovery, not just those known entities. In addition, prominent artists to play a part in these closing sets include Bobby Hutcherson, Roy Ayers, Bud Shank, and Anthony Ortega


For devoted Mosaic followers the usual packaging remains constant; a 12 x 12 box houses the five compact discs and a 20-page booklet. In addition to a complete discography and session-by-session annotation by writer Doug Ramsey, there are a wealth of photos from such photographers as Ray Avery, Woody Woodward, and Francis Wolff.”
And the second compendium of the Mosaic The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra is by Harvey Pekar which appeared in the JazzTimes [April, 2001].

“These are among the finest of all large ensemble jazz recordings of the past 50 years, and Gerald Wilson is a great big-band composer/arranger/leader, although he has not received enough credit for a couple of major reasons. He came to the fore after the end of the big band era, and his outfits did not tour. Hopefully, this five-CD set will refocus attention on his major accomplishments.


From 1939 to 1942, Wilson not only played trumpet with Jimmie Lunceford, but also wrote charts for him, including "Yard Dog Mazurka," some of which was incorporated into "Intermission Riff," and "Hi Spook." During World War II he played in Willie Smith's Great Lakes Naval Training Station Band, and by the time he was discharged or shortly thereafter had assimilated a lot of bop into his writing style, as his earliest (1945 and 1946) big-band discs indicate. His recordings as a big bandleader were infrequent, however, until this series of LPs he cut for Pacific from 1961 to 1969.

The bands Wilson wrote for at that time were Los Angeles-based, post-bop all-star units containing top echelon section players and soloists including trumpeters Carmell Jones, Conte Candoli, Charles Tolliver and ace lead player Al Porcino, woodwind men Teddy Edwards, Harold Land, Walter Benton, Joe Maini, Jimmy Woods, Bud Shank, Buddy Collette, Anthony Ortega and Jack Nimitz, pianists Jack Wilson and Jimmy Rowles, guitarist Joe Pass, vibists Roy Ayers and Bobby Hutcherson, bassists Leroy Vinnegar and Jimmy Bond and drummers Mel Lewis and Frank Butler. The first album Wilson made with Pacific featured the work of organist Richard "Groove" Holmes, and it's a tribute to his ability as an arranger that he uses Holmes very sensitively, so that a nice balance is maintained between his playing and the rest of the band.

Wilson's compositions here reflect his wide range of musical interests. There are a number of blues of various sorts here, including his well-known blues waltz "Blues for Yna Yna." Wilson often wrote in 3/4 meter. "Aram" is interesting partly because of the inclusion of a taste of 4/4 in this mainly 3/4 composition. It keeps listeners on their toes.

There are also Spanish and Latin American influences here, as heard on "Viva Tirado," "Latino," "Paco" and "Teri," during which Wilson employs Pass playing acoustic guitar. There are many references in Wilson's music to things Mexican, including compositions dedicated to bullfighters in that country. Spanish composer Manuel DeFalla influenced "Caprichos," and there's also an adaptation by Wilson of a DeFalla theme, "Chanson du Feu Follet." Modal selections include Wilson's original "Patterns" and versions of "Milestones" and "So What." When Wilson's band wants to lay back its ears and swing, it does so with the best of them, as on "Emerge," "Eric" and "Perdido." And if you dig lovely ballads, try "Josefina," "El Viti" and a very nice cover of "'Round Midnight."

Wilson's arrangements are uniformly rich and full of contrasts. On "El Viti" he employs eight-part harmony for brass. The quality of the solos is consistently high. Not only is Wilson's band full of fine improvisers, they play with constant inspiration. Many are familiar to knowledgeable jazz fans, but a few aren't. Pay particular attention to the alto-sax work of Anthony Ortega, who played Charlie Parkerish solos in 1953 when he was with Lionel Hampton, but continued to evolve and improve his chops into the 1960s. Here his work may have a general similarity to Eric Dolphy's, but is quite original and full of imagination and surprises.”
To conclude this odyssey into Mr. Wilson’s musical world let’s turn to three of his more recent recordings: [1] Theme for Monterey - 2003 [2] New York New Sound - 2003 and In My Time 2005.


As Kirk Silsbee explains by way of background in his insert notes to Theme for Monterey[MAMA Foundation MMF 1021]:

“1963 was a momentous year for the Monterey Jazz Festival. Modern Jazz, in the form of Miles, Monk, Mulligan and the Modern Quartet, studded the bill. Clearly, the Monterey Jazz festival had come of age. Jimmy Lyons, the festival’s founder, had already presented the best of the remaining jazz orchestras from the Golden Age: Duke, Basie, Woody, Harry James. Now Lyons would indulge his own special passion, big band music, in an important way.

Gerald Wilson, at the cutting edge of jazz orchestration, was given the dominant big band forum that weekend in September. The Los Angeles bandleader whose musical lieutenants included Teddy Edwards, Harold Land, Jack Wilson and Joe Pass, would give the jazz world a message: the future is this way.

Riding on the success of its Pacific Jazz albums, the Gerald Wilson Orchestra delivered an object lesson in the possibilities of big band music. Demanding time signatures, multiple key changes, intricate harmonies and, above all, swing, were explored in a new and exciting way. Louis-Victor Mialy, reviewing the Festival for the Paris-based Jazz magazine, viewed Wilson’s showing as the most exciting thing he’d seen since Dizzy brought his orchestra to France in 1948.”

Echoing the tone of Mr. Silsbee’s remarks is this review of the recording which appears in Richard Cook and Brian Morton’s The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD:

Wilson was a natural choice for the keynote new work at the 4oth anniversary Monterey Jazz Festival. Prestigious as such a commission is, no one could have expected a piece of such grave and joyous brilliance as Theme For Monterey. At more than three quarters of an hour, it has a scope and simplicity of purpose which few contemporary players would have dared, and yet repeated listening reveals a whole raft of subtle ideas, personal and musicological references. The 'encore' pieces, 'Summertime' and the brief bop exercise of Anthropology, offer just a glimpse of how a Wilson band attacks repertory material. Both arrangements were premiered at the Library of Congress in recognition of its archiving of Wilson's work.

The real interest lies in his suite of original themes. 'Lyons' Roar' is a dedication to Monterey Festival maven Jimmy Lyons; the main soloists are trumpeter Oscar Brashear, tenors Carl Randall and Randall Willis, and guitarist Anthony Wilson, who probably gets more space on the disc than he strictly deserves. It also features pianist Brian O'Rourke, who is the most effective presence of 'Cookin' On Cannery Row' and 'Spanish Bay.' The set is very nearly hijacked by the very first track, an exquisite thing called 'Romance', which highlights the bright, expressive soprano of Scott Mayo.”


As the album title makes obvious, Mr. Wilson was off to New York in 2005 to record New York New Sound [Mack Avenue Records MAC 1009] or as Harvey Siders explains it in his insert notes:

“For this album, the only non-laid back resident of L.A. was in a New York state of mind, and came up with a session that sounds like it was written by a cat half his age. Between the jet-propelled bookends of ‘Milestones’ and ‘Nancy Jo,’ are outstanding examples of Gerald’s thick-textured wide voicings providing plenty of stretch-out room for such stellar soloists as Jimmy Owens, Trumpet, Luis Bonilla, Trombone, Jesse Davis, Alto Sax, Jimmy Heath, Tenor Saxophone, and Kenny Barron, Piano.

Dig some of the highlights. ‘Blues for Count’ was suggested by Basie. Gerald told me: ‘Bill said: “Write it real soft then let it get loud,” ‘so I let it build from a triple pianissimo to a triple fortissimo.’ It makes the explosion at the end – a raucous, free climax – all the more effective. Check out Clark Terry’s “double” Trumpet solo, alternating between muted and open playing. Sounds like he’s beside himself. …
Coltrane’s ‘Equinox’ has a mesmerizing, repeated rhythmic figure that Wilson and especially the soloists use as a launching pad. Benny Powell, the first of four Trombone soloists, manages to “slide” in a quote from “Why Don’t You Do Right.” …


Another participant, pianist Rene Rosnes, summed up the leader’s charisma most eloquently: ‘If I were to watch a silent film of Gerald conducting, I would still be able to experience the swing of the music, his presence is that powerful.”

For In My Time, also issued in 2005 on Mack Avenue Records [MAC 1025], Wilson returned to Manhattan to lead an all-star big band through the ten tunes featured on “In My Time.” The centerpieces of the project are the three selections--“Dorian.” “Ray's Vision at the U,” and “Blues For Manhattan”--that comprise the suite titled “The Diminished Triangle.” “ ‘The Diminished Triangle’ is the study of diminished chords,” explains Wilson. “We have three diminished chords which add up to 12 different notes, and all musicians study the 12 tones. By using the diminished triangle many different ways, one can get a lot of different harmonic sounds. This suite gave me the opportunity to use a lot of eight-part harmony.”


Josef Woodward’s JazzTimes review of the album noted:
Commissioned by The California Institute for the Preservation of Jazz, and supported by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and marshaled by Cal State Long Beach educator Ray Briggs (for whom “Ray's Vision at the U” was named), “The Diminished Triangle” was debuted at Cal State L.A. on April 2, 2005.

Every selection on “In My Time” is filled with a sense of exhilaration, dense and distinctive harmonies, and stirring solos. “Sax Chase,” which in the 1980s was known as “Triple Chase,” showcases Wilson's talents as an arranger, and features stirring saxophone solos from Ron Blake, Steve Wilson, Kamasi Washington, Gary Smulyan and Dustin Cicero. On “Blues For ManhattanWilson explained that he utilized five-part harmony for the sax section, so that each player is performing a harmony of the melodic line without any doubling. One of the highlights on “Lomelin,” written for the great bullfighter Antonio Lomelin, is a dramatic trumpet solo from Jon Faddis. As evidence that Wilson’s music is inherently connected to his life, “AEN” is named after his son, guitarist Anthony Wilson, and for his two grandsons, Eric and Nicholas, while “Musette,” which includes a beautiful guitar solo from Russell Malone, was named after a poodle given to Gerald's three daughters. Also on this memorable project are Wilson's “Jeri” (named after his first-born daughter) and reworkings of Miles Davis' “So What” and Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale.” “I originally wrote an arrangement for 'Love For Sale' in 1953, using Jerry Dodgion on lead alto. 52 years later, I got to use him again on the new version.” Among the other soloists heard from along the way are trumpeters Jimmy Owens, Sean Jones and Jeremy Pelt, trombonist Luis Bonilla and pianist Renee Rosnes.

“The musicians in the band were really into the music and they are brilliant players,” enthused Wilson. “They are at home everywhere they are, in every bar of music.”

The same can be said for the veteran bandleader.”


Interviewed in 2004, Mr. Wilson had this to say which will serve as some closing thoughts to this profile:

"There's a few more things I want to do. The sound of my band is the harmonic structure that I use and I have a theory that I call eight-part harmony theory. They don't have it yet in the universities either. That is the use of eight different notes instead of four. Most bands are playing four-part harmony - a little five-part, a little six every now and then, but basically four parts. Now with my theory, you'll be able to write and use eight different notes. In other words, when you hear my brass shout down on eight different notes, it's going to wipe you out right quick, because there's so much in jazz. We have twelve tones to use in music. If you're just using four and five, what are you going to do with the other seven? There are other notes there. And everything is compatible on the piano. I do that to demonstrate to my classes. I just go and hit every note I can get my elbow and my hands and my arms on and hit them all at once. And then you hear the greatest chord you ever heard in your life. But you can't write that, you know, so you try to get as near as you can. My theory will be out in a new book that's coming out in about a year from now. My theory will be there and they'll have it, if there are young writers that would like to advance in harmony, they'll get a chance to see right there how to do it. It's there.”

Amazingly, Mr. Wilson was there “then” in 1939 when he joined Jimmy Lunceford’s band and he is still here “now” in 2009 once again leading his own orchestra – 70 years of unending, Jazz creativity.
Through his hard work and dedication, Mr. Wilson has evolved into a Jazz composer-arranger sui generis.