Walker: It is hard keeping up with Gerald Wilson, ladies and gentlemen. I gotta tell ya. Right there, a couple of family affairs for him. Recreations on his new recording entitled New York, New Sound on the Mack Avenue record label. He’ll be celebrating that tonight, for one evening only at Birdland in New York City. A piece right there called “Nancy Joe” for one of his daughters it’s named. With Sean Jones on the trumpet and Jesse Davis just burning up on the alto saxophone. Son Anthony Wilson on the guitar and Kenny Barron, reminiscent of Jack Wilson on the piano. And “Josephina” with Kenny Barron taking a solo again and Gerald’s good buddy Jimmy Heath on the tenor. You’ve got to know, as we were listening to this music, Gerald was sitting here going, “Wow. Listen to that Sean Jones. Listen to him.” He’s like me. He’s like me when I listen to this music, except he really knows it inside and out.
And man, I’m telling you he can hang. I remember back in Toronto at the International Association of Jazz Educators one night — I think the restaurant had closed, you know that palm area they had there in the lobby — They came and they asked us to leave. I said “what about those people I hear on the other side of the palm trees there?” And he said “we’re going to ask them to leave too.” And I mean it was late, folks. There was nobody else in the place. And as we got up ready to leave, I peeked through the palm and down at the end of the table was Gerald Wilson and some of his buddies sitting around, telling stories and laughing and having a good time. I just couldn’t hang any more. It was late. I mean, it was he late, late show was over and they were still hanging. This music makes you feel like that doesn’t it?
Wilson: Well, it makes me feel that way. I’m glad the musicians that play it, they play it so well and they give their own sound to it. It’s a different sound. It’s the sound of the people that makes the music. It’s like the Duke Ellington band. Harry Carney and Johnny Hodges, Cat Anderson, Clark Terry and all those great musicians. They make the sound of the band. And that’s what the Duke said, so that’s good enough for me.
Walker: You did, I wouldn’t necessarily call it ghost arranging, but you did some work. You worked on “Anatomy of a Murder,” correct?
Wilson: I worked for Duke quite a while. I made my first two arrangements for him in 1947. They were for Columbia Records. Everything that I did for the Duke has been recorded and that includes 15 numbers I did for him in all during my career. As you said, it was like ghosting, but later on I got all of my credit for everything I did for the Duke and I’m so happy that he gave me the chance to be a part of his organization.
Walker: We played Nancy Wilson this morning and some of your work with her. I played a couple of things with you and the great Ray Charles. Dinah Washington, you went out on the road together.
Wilson: Billie Holliday.
Walker: Billie Holliday. And Bobby Darrin. You did some work with Bobby Darrin. I think it was Dinah Washington you went out on the road with and then when you were done with that tour, wasn’t that the tour when you disbanded because you said, “I don’t have enough time to learn. I need to learn more.”
Wilson: That was Ella Fitzgerald. Ella Fitzgerald and my orchestra and I had just hired a young singer in Chicago, where I had just been for 10 weeks at the El Grotto, named Joe Williams. And I realized that my band had reached the top already. We were right there. We had been to New York, we had already played the Apollo and they gave us a great welcome here in New York in 1946. So I said “I haven’t even started. I’ve got to get back and study so I can really earn what they’re giving me now.” So that’s what happened there.