Jazzman Gerald Wilson, Still Enjoying His 'Time'

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Cover of 'In My Time'

Gerald Wilson's latest CD was published in September 2005. hide caption

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Jazz great Gerald Wilson is still going strong at 87. He will perform this weekend in New York as part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center series. His most recent album, In My Time was released last year.

DAVID WAS reporting:

Big band leader and trumpeter Gerald Wilson is one of the jazz world's great living treasures. And at a sprightly 87-years-old, he's still swinging like mad.


Back now with DAY TO DAY, and music contributor David Was.

WAS: Gerald Wilson has a new album out entitled In My Time and is also leading the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for there nights this month at the Rose Theater in New York City.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Wilson, a Mississippi native is known for his long time residency on the West Coast. He may not be a household name like Count Basie or Duke Ellington, but he's been in the vanguard of big band arrangers and composers since leaving the Jimmy Lunceford Band, which he joined in 1939 at the age of 21. He organized his first ensemble in 1944 and began demonstrating his abilities as a propulsive post-Basie orchestrator.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Then he did the unlikely thing. At the height of his success and to the chagrin of his booking agent he left the road behind and delved into a deeper study of harmony and orchestration. Relocating to Los Angeles and absorbing the local sounds of the Latino music scene, as well as working as an arranger for the likes of Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. In the '50s, he provided musical settings for the vocals of Bobby Darin, Sarah Vaughan, and Ray Charles.

(Soundbite of Ray Charles's song "You Are My Sunshine")

Mr. RAY CHARLES (Musician and Singer): (Singing) Do you know that I hung my, I hung my head and cried, Whoah you are my sunshine, ohh, my only sunshine.

WAS: Following the lead of Benny Carter, his close friend and colleague, Wilson also helped to break the color line in Hollywood, scoring Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder, as well as musical directing Redd Foxx's Sanford and Son. But commercial success only meant more time for study. And Wilson then delved into classical music, absorbing the work of Stravinsky and Ravel, as well as Villa Lobos and Rodrigo.

The latter influences led him to compose songs like Viva Tirado, which became a Top 40 cover by El Chicano and was later sampled by Latino rapper Kid Frost. Here's Wilson's original version.

(Soundbite of song "Viva Tirado")

WAS: From the nightclubs to the concert halls Wilson has always concealed his scholarship under a bubbling rhythmic surface. Though he had large scale works commissioned by the L.A. Philharmonic and the Monterey Jazz Festival, he's never forgotten his roots and the language established by Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson. I want my music to swing in any tempo, even the ballads, he has said. After all, this is Jazz and everything must swing.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Our reviewer David Was. Gerald Wilson is performing with his orchestra tomorrow through Saturday in New York as part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center series.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment.

(Soundbite of music)

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