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Interviews

Gerald Wilson

By Published: May 17, 2004
Wilson: Yes. Well you know Snooky and I were in the Lunceford band together. We played. We had played with a band in Ohio just a couple of weeks or so before I joined Jimmy Lunceford. Well, actually about a month before I joined Jimmy Lunceford. Then when Eddie Tompkins left the Lunceford band, Snooky came to join the Lunceford band. So we both left and went to California. Because we were waiting to be drafted into the service at that time. But it just so happened I didn’t get drafted for about a year, so in between that time I was just very fortunate. I was lucky enough to play with Benny carter’s band. Actually Les Hite’s band also. Snooky and I were with Les Hite’s band, which was a great band on the west coast. Actually Dizzy Gillespie played in Less Hite’s band at one time. So when Benny came to California, we joined Benny’s band. That was a chance to learn so much more from such a great musician like Benny. And then, of course, going into the service. Into the United States Navy. Another chance to go to school again and I was lucky enough to be there with my good friend Willie Smith out of the Lunceford band. Clark Terry the great trumpeter was there. All of the musicians were fine and it was another chance to learn so much about what I was seeking. I was just a great time for me during that period.

Walker: What a great time for me and what an honor for me to be talking to Gerald Wilson, who is one of a select group of the trumpet writers. Benny Carter would be another. Sy Oliver. Neil Hefti. Quincy Jones and yourself. That’s some pretty good company.

Wilson: They’re all my friends. As you say, Benny Carter was a great trumpet player himself. I actually replaced Sy Oliver. When he left to join Tommy Dorsey it gave me the opportunity to join the Lunceford band. Sy is my dear friend. I knew all of the guys in the band at that time. In fact, you know, during that period whenever the band would hit Detroit, a bunch of kids I attended school with we would just hang out with all of the bands from the time they got to town until they leave. So you knew everybody. Duke and Chick Webb. Ella and all of those people. So it was a chance to be with the people that meant so much and helped us so much, the younger musicians during that period.

Walker: Now here we are in the year 2003 and we still got some stuff to talk about here. A brand new recording. In fact you’ll be celebrating this for one night tonight at Birdland in New York City with a bunch of these New York guys that’ll be joining you and you’ll be celebrating New York, New Sound which is a new recording on the Mack Avenue record label, with your good friend Stix Hooper, who’s featured on a lot of these tracks. Stix also did some work for you back when, didn’t he?

Wilson: Yes he did, during a time in the 60s there when the Crusaders were in Los Angeles. I needed a drummer at one period and Stix came in to help me out, stayed with me for a few jobs. I also brought along their bassist Buster Williams. So it was really a great time. And I want to thank Stix for giving me this opportunity to be a part of this venture. I wanted to come and work with some of the wonderful musicians here in New York. You know, I kind of consider New York as one of my homes. I have quite a few homes. In fact, I’d like to name them if I could. I have my first home, which is Shelby, Mississippi. My second home is Memphis, Tennessee. I studied there for three years in high school. And also at a school where Jimmy Lunceford had been a teacher and a football coach.

Then my next stop was Detroit, Michigan. That’s my other home. And New York was my next home. And of course I thought at that time, there was a statement we had going along in the band and around New York: We’d leave New York to go to heaven. So I had planned to make my whole life right in New York. Every chance I get to come here, I’m eager to get here because this is my home. And of course Los Angeles is another one of my homes. And San Francisco is one of my homes because I lived there for about three years. So I’ve got all those wonderful homes in the United States and I’m just so proud to have a chance to be in those wonderful places. And of course the whole country. You know the Lunceford band played every state, every capital city in the United States except one, and that was North Dakota. So all the rest I’ve been to thanks to the Lunceford band and the other bands. I spent two years with Count Basie’s band, so that was another two years here in New York. I feel like it’s my home too. It is my home too, and it will always be.


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