Of all of the historic big bands of the ‘40s, none has been more perennially overlooked than that of Gerald Wilson. For those of us on the left coast who wear insecurity on our sleeves like epaulets, the fact that Wilson’s career has primarily been associated with the Los Angeles jazz scene seems explanation enough for this slight. Although little known by the public, however, Wilson’s talent and contributions are well recognized within the jazz community. During his life in music, Wilson has created distinctive arrangements and compositions (both jazz and symphonic) that ensure him a lasting place in the panoply of legendary American musical communicators.
With New York, New Sound
, Wilson at age 85 belatedly makes his triumphant return to the Big Apple, a city he left at the peak of his popularity and commercial success in 1947. His debut album for Mack Avenue Records is crisp, fresh, and lively, with that ebullience that Wilson followers have learned to expect. At the same time, the CD has the comfortable familiarity of the latest edition of your favorite car: you know it’s new, but the seat is so deep and cozy, it feels as if it were fashioned just for you; handling is predictable, and all the controls are recognizable and in their familiar places.
The CD is sprinkled with jazz standards (such as Miles Davis’ “Milestones,” John Coltrane’s “Equinox,” and Wilson’s own “Viva Tirado”), but even the original tunes (like “Teri,” “Blues for Yna Yna,” and ”Theme for Monterey”) are so inevitable, you wonder why no one ever thought of them before. The album is nicely paced, with good variety; opening and closing bookends pursue a feverish pace, while ballads (mysterious, poignant and lush), several blues, a jazz waltz, and two Latin delicacies are tucked neatly in between. All bear the hallmark of Wilson’s identifiable arranging genius.
As much as composer, arranger, and bandleader, Wilson has distinguished himself as music educator, having taught in multiple locations and formats for more than 30 years, most recently at UCLA. Those interested in learning more about the true artistry of big band jazz need look no further.
Personnel: Soloists include Jon Faddis and Clark Terry (trumpet), Kenny Barron and Renee Rosnes (piano),
Jimmy Heath (tenor sax) and Stix Hooper (drums)