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Gerald Wilson

By Published: May 17, 2004
Walker: This is a man that says I want to write for orchestra, I want to write for television, I want to write for film and I just don’t have the time to do all that stuff. So disbanded and had a million dates booked, so I’ll bet your booking agent never talked to you after that point. Couldn’t understand why at the top of the game someone would say “I need to disband.” And the answer was simply: a man who was dedicated to his art said “I gotta stop this in order to do this over here.” I heard you mention recently in an interview with someone about what I call a full service musician. Someone like yourself who not only plays, but also composes and arranges for the world of jazz, but also does it for the world of television and the world of film. You had mentioned someone like Terrance Blanchard coming along these days as someone who carries that kind of torch. You had that kind of torch too. We talked about “Anatomy of a Murder.” I wonder if anyone remembers the Connie Francis film “Where the Boys Are.”

Wilson: “Where the Boys Are.”

Walker: That was also something that you did in the world of film.

Wilson: Yes. That was for MGM. It was my first picture to work on. It was a great honor. I did others after that, of course. I worked with David Racksin over at Columbia. I did stuff at Universal and Warner Brothers. And then my other was, I wanted to write for the symphony orchestra, you know, so I had studied and studied hard and one day I got an invitation from Zubin Mehta to compose a number for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and after that, got a commission to do four other orchestrations for them which he took all over the world with him. He brought his to New York and played it with the New York Philharmonic, some of my work. He also did it with the Israel Philharmonic in Tel Aviv. So once I got there I was ready for anything, so that’s what I had been working for.

Walker: It’s interesting that you talk about MQM being the first place that you did work for film. That was also the first place where Lalo Schfrin did film work and I think it’s because they were a recording arm, they were also a film arm too. Lalo told me, he said “I just want to do some of that.” It’s a little bit harder these days, but scoring for film, “Anatomy of a Murder.” Television shows, you were musical director for Redd Foxx.

Wilson: Yes. You know I would like to also put in a plug for another New Yorker, a fellow by the name of Calvin Jackson. I know people won’t remember him because he never got any credit also on the screen. But he did over 14 films at MGM. I mean complete. He was a fantastic writer, had done some work for the Lunceford band when I was with them in 1939 and 1940. I just wanted to give him that plug because a lot of credit he didn’t get during his time here.

Walker: He’s a member of so many hierarchies in the world of music and for the past 40 minutes or so I hope you’re getting an understanding about the wonderful world of Gerald Wilson, whether a member of the Jimmy Lunceford band early on or scoring “Anatomy of a Murder” and working not only with Duke Ellington, but working with Count Basie and so many others and working with so many singers over the years and his work in film and television as well. But also a member of Los Aficionados des Los Angeles. Talk about that if you would.

Wilson: That is an exclusive bullfighting club. And they have units all over the United States. It’s a very large organization. Each year they give you an award if you have contributed something to the world of tauromaquia, the world of the bullfight. It just so happens I have written a number of compositions for bullfighters, my first one being, of course, Jose Ramone Tirado who is one of the greatest of his time, a young man that thrilled me the first time I saw him because he was such an artist. I said I’ve got to write something to try to paint this young man in music. So I tried that and it kind of came off from him and became a big hit for me.

Walker: You make the distinction, and you’ve recorded that song four or five times, but you’ve also said there are 18 or 19 other versions.

Wilson: Absolutely. There are about 17 or 18 different versions of it, including some people that you wouldn’t expect it from. Like the guy that did the “Yackety Sax,” he did it. Percy Faith did a fine version of it. And many others. Jack Costanza. I can’t name them all. It was a big hit. It has been into some TV things too, by the way.

Walker: Gerald is someone who treats the world of bullfighting as an art, not a sport, because of the similarities between the artistry of the matador and the artistry of the jazz musician. And we will continue with our conversation with Gerald Wilson after we enjoy some of Gerald’s work.


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