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Gerald Wilson

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Walker: A couple of guys, the American Jazz Orchestra guys, are probably a lot of them are listening this morning. Mr. Giddins and the hard work that he did over there. And of course the late John Lewis as the musical direction. But what a concert that was.

Wilson: I want to thank Gary Giddins and John Lewis and the American Jazz Orchestra and Schoenberg. They’re such wonderful people and they brought me in. It was a real shot in the arm for me to be able to come back to New York and work with all the wonderful musicians. Jerry Dodgion was in that band. He had worked with my band in San Francisco. Jerome Richardson and Benny Powell. I can name them all. They were all just wonderful musicians that I love working with. That gave me a chance to be back in New York again with them.

Walker: With everything that you have done. It’s such a pity we only have an hour here, because Gerald and I could sit and talk for four and a half hours about various things. Such as your approach to the Afro-Cuban area of music is not so much what you do with it rhythmically, but what you do with it harmonically. And parts for the various sections, right?

Wilson: Yes, because I don’t know too much about... They have so many different kinds of rhythms and when they come in with their percussion section, they’ve got so much going on, to try and write all of that would be a mistake, I believe. But all you do is put that stuff around the harmonic tones and things like that and they’ll take care of the rhythm. So, I love the Cuban music and the Afro-Cuban approach, but as I say, trying to write out the rhythm parts — just forget it and let them take care of it because they know what to do.

Walker: Now you still write by hand. You don’t use a computer. You hate a computer as much as I do, don’t you?

Wilson: I can’t even turn it on. I have one at home that my daughter gave me a year ago. I haven’t even learned how to turn it on. But I’m going to, because as you know I’m having a little problem with my eyes right now. I just can’t see the small print and things like that. So I’m just going to have to get so that I just have my keyboard there. When I do it on the piano — boom — it’s right there. And if you want to hear it back, you can hear it back right now. I’m looking forward to working with the computer.

Walker: With everything that you have done and the cultural contributions that you have made, the educational contributions. You should have seen this guy at the IAJE in Toronto. He was working and pushing, as he does, pushing the University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble. And when they got done. And when they got done — I can’t remember the tune, but it was: Bah bah! It just ended right on a dime. And they all looked at each other like “Who the hell just did..? Why it was us!” And that happens every time you take the stand. And I’m sure it’s going to happen tonight with seasoned musicians. Who are some of the cats going to be with you tonight?

Wilson: Tonight we’re going to have Rene Rosnes with the Carnegie Hall group will be there. We’re going to have, I don’t know if you know Charles Fambrough a great bassist, played with Art Blakey. A wonderful bassist. He’ll be there with us. Lewis Nash will be there with us. Anthony Wilson, my son, will be with us. We’re going to have Jay Branford, baritone. We’re going to have Jerry Dodgion, we’re going to have Jesse Davis. We’re going to have Frank Wess, the great Frank Wess. And I brought a young man from the school where I work. You know I teach at UCLA now, I’m in my 13th year there now. I brought a young 22-year-old saxophonist that is just going to electrify the crowd. He is just marvelous. Be looking for this guy and listening to him tonight. You’re going to enjoy him. All the other guys. We’ve got Jon Faddis, of course. I want to thank Jon. He contracts the band here. We’ve got Jimmy Owens who made my first “Carlos” back about 38 years ago. He’ll be back to play “Carlos” again a he did on my first album. Also Sean Jones will be there. He’s a monster on the trumpet. Frank Green. So we have really an outstanding bunch of guys. Benny Powell. Who are the other guys we’ve got? I’m trying to think of all of them. But anyway, they will all be there, the ones that are on this record. I’m looking forward to Birdland tonight. You know, I never got a chance to play in Birdland. I had been in Birdland a number of times. I was there every year I’d come to New York. I’d be over there. But this time, I can now say that I have played in Birdland. We know that that’s the great place that honors the great Charlie Parker and I want to thank the people for giving me the chance to be in a wonderful establishment tonight.

Walker: When I hear your music, whether it’s the inspiration from the Monterey Jazz Festival, the five-part wonderful suite you wrote “Theme for Monterey” to help celebrate one of their anniversaries, but when I hear your music, I see dance. Did you work with dance companies?

Wilson: Everything I do, if you are there to watch me, I choreograph it because I do the dancing up on the stage, although I’m not a dancer. I can’t even dance. But when the music comes, I choreograph it. That’s just one of those things. I want to feel it, you know.

Walker: This man is 85 years old.

Wilson: Wow!

Walker: He just celebrated his 85th birthday. Listen to him. After 50, they’re all a surprise, right? Just last month in September, celebrated his 85th birthday. And I’m telling you, when he talks about choreographing the performance. Some of you have seen, you couldn’t have missed over the last few years, you couldn’t have missed Michael Jackson performing and the way he moves on stage. He ain’t got nothin’ on Gerald Wilson the way he moves on stage. I’m serious about this. I don’t have a clue as to how you do it. I hope I’m still walking down the street.

Wilson: One time when I was a kid I was working with a band in Detroit and the pianist was 50 years old and I was 17 at that time. I said, “Gee, 50 is old. If I make it to 50, I hope I can make it that long.” So I’ve been lucky to be out here a little longer than that.

Walker: What would you like to do that you haven’t done?

Wilson: There’s a few more things I want to do. The sound of my band is the harmonic structure that I use and I have a theory that I call eight-part harmony theory. They don’t have it yet in the universities either. That is the use of eight different notes instead of four. Most bands are playing four-part harmony. A little five-part. A little six every now and then. But basically four parts. Now with my theory, you’ll be able to write and use eight different notes. In other words, when you hear my brass shout down on eight different notes, it’s going to wipe you out right quick, because there’s so much in jazz. We have 12 tones to use in music. If you’re just using four and five, what are you going to do with the other seven? There are other notes there. And everything is compatible on the piano. I do that to demonstrate to my classes. I just go and hit every note I can get my elbow and my hands and my arms on and hit them all at once. And then you hear the greatest chord you ever heard in your life. But you can’t write that, you know, so you try to get as near as you can.

My theory will be out in a new book that’s coming out in about a year from now. My theory will be there and they’ll have it, if there are young writers that would like to advance in harmony, they’ll get a chance to see right there how to do it. It’s there.

Walker: That theory will be practiced. And I tell you, if you’re a composer or arranger and you walk into Gerald’s room, you’re in big trouble, man. You’re in big trouble I can tell. Gerald, thank you.

Wilson: I want to thank you and thank this wonderful jazz station here, music station, in Newark. I’ve been here, this will be my third time, I believe. I enjoy coming here every time I get here. I want to thank you for inviting me to be here today.
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