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Jazz Arranger Gerald Wilson Dies At 96

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Jazz Arranger Gerald Wilson Dies At 96

Remembrances

Jazz Arranger Gerald Wilson Dies At 96

Jazz Arranger Gerald Wilson Dies At 96

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/347594917/347594918" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Bandleader, composer and arranger Gerald Wilson died Monday at his home in Los Angeles. Wilson's career stretched from the swing era of the 1930s into the 21st century.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we remember a long life in music. Gerald Wilson has died at the age of 96. His jazz career began in a different era, the time of the big bands in the 1930s. Count Basie, Duke Ellington and the Los Angeles Philharmonic played his music and arrangements over the years. His first big break was composing, arranging and playing trumpet in Jimmie Lunceford's band before the Second World War.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIMMIE LUNCEFORD ORCHESTRA SONG)

INSKEEP: And he continued playing for many decades. Gerald Wilson was born in 1918 in Shelby, Mississippi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GERALD WILSON: My mother was a school teacher. She was also a music teacher. She played piano, and she taught me how to read music when I was a little boy.

INSKEEP: That's Wilson in 2006 on WHYY's Fresh Air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WILSON: It was music in my house all day long. That's all I ever heard was music all day, and I loved it. And that's what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a jazz musician.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERALD WILSON SONG)

INSKEEP: After World War II, Wilson formed his first band. Unhappy with his own music, he went back to school to learn more. When he returned to work, he arranged for Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Sarah Vaughan. Just three years ago, Gerald Wilson told NPR he had a simple rule in writing music - make listeners happy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WILSON: You've got to hope that the people will like it, that - if you write something that you're the only one that like it, that's not too good.

INSKEEP: His greatest passion was not the music he wrote for others, but the big band he conducted himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WILSON: I choreographed my music. Every time I move, something happens there where I move - my two hands here, showing you where to look.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERALD WILSON SONG)

INSKEEP: And there's an image by which to remember Gerald Wilson. It is sad that in his long life, he conducted his bands with the flare of a dancer. It's NPR News.

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