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Bob Wilber

Robert Sage Wilber, clarinetist, saxophonist, composer, arranger, and educator, was born in New York City on March 15, 1928. He grew up in a musical household and recalls being fascinated with Ellington's recording of "Mood Indigo" at the age of three. In 1935, Wilber moved to Scarsdale, NY and at 13 he began formal clarinet study. He started playing jazz in high school and often visited New York City's 52nd Street absorbing the music of traditional jazzmen such as Pee Wee Russell, Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, and modern jazzmen Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker. Early on, he dedicated his life to jazz at the expense of formal college studies.

Wilber studied with Sidney Bechet in 1946, living with him for several months and sitting in with him occasionally at Jimmy Ryan's. In 1948, Bechet sent him in his stead to Nice, France to perform at the first-ever jazz festival, after which Wilber toured with Mezz Mezzrow. In 1946 Wilber formed The Wildcats and recorded sides for Commodore and, with Bechet, for Columbia. In Boston from 1948 to 1951, he led a group of veteran jazzmen at the Savoy Cafe and also played at George Wein's Storyville as a headliner with the De Paris brothers and Sid Catlett.

Wilber entered the Army in 1951, after which he studied with modernists Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz. He also studied classical clarinet with Leon Russinoff for five years. During this time, Wilber had significant gigs with Eddie Condon and Bobby Hackett, and formed his own group, The Six, focusing on combining traditional and modern jazz elements. In 1958-59, he toured twice with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. In 1968, Wilber joined the World's Greatest Jazz Band (WGJB) for six years. He began composing and writing more, and his music reflected increasingly progressive elements. In 1975, Wilber formed the highly regarded Soprano Summit along with co-leader Kenny Davern. This quintet featured both early jazz pieces and original music. The WGJB and Soprano Summit experience combined with work Wilber had done for Duke Ellington conventions in the 1960s reflected an increasing interest in jazz repertory work, not only recreating jazz from original scores but allowing for modern variations. In the 1970s and 1980s, he produced concerts for the New York Jazz Repertory Company and directed the Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble.

In 1981, Wilber formed Bechet Legacy, a group dedicated to the musical heritage of Sidney Bechet. Wilber was the musical director for the soundtrack to the movie The Cotton Club (for which he won a Grammy in 1986) and for the Broadway show Mr. Jelly Lord. In 1988, he assembled an orchestra and recreated the famous 1938 Benny Goodman concert at Carnegie Hall as well as at London's Royal Albert Hall.

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Multiple Reviews

Following in Bechet's Footsteps

Read "Following in Bechet's Footsteps" reviewed by Ken Dryden

Bob Wilber with Clark Terry Blowin' the Blues Away Classic Jazz 2008 Nik Payton and Bob Wilber Swinging the Changes Arbors 2008 Soprano Summit 1975...and more! Arbors 2008

Bob Wilber has been on the jazz scene for ages, once a student of Sidney Bechet. He ...

Album Review

Bob Wilber and the Tuxedo Big Band: Fletcher Henderson's Unrecorded Arrangements for Benny Goodman

Read "Fletcher Henderson's Unrecorded Arrangements for Benny Goodman" reviewed by Jack Bowers

This marvelous new recording by clarinetist Bob Wilber and the Tuxedo Big Band from Toulouse, France, is akin to finding buried treasure — and it’s no wonder, as these sparkling arrangements by Fletcher Henderson were “buried” for many years in collections donated by Benny Goodman to the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts and the Yale University Music Library. Wilber was given access to them in 1984 as he planned a 75th birthday tribute to the King of Swing ...

Album Review

Bob Wilber & Friends: What Swing is All About...

Read "What Swing is All About..." reviewed by AAJ Staff

This is simple stuff, plain and unassuming. Two high horns, with a broad arsenal, trade nimbly over a bright trio. The group was formed for a hotel job in 1984 and plays to this day. The repertoire is expected: old standards and basic originals. The album has no surprises, save one: this old music sounds fresher than a lot of modern bands. This is what swing is all about.

The horns step together on “Smiles”, a parallel theme with plenty ...

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Bob Wilber, RIP

Bob Wilber, RIP

Source: Rifftides by Doug Ramsey

We have learned that the superlative clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Bob Wilber died at his home in England earlier this month. He was 91. Wilber studied with the New Orleans reed pioneer Sidney Bechet and spent decades extending the Bechet legacy. Unusual among those who specialize in traditional music, Wilber also became adept in the bebop idiom and worked with, among others, trumpeter Clark Terry. In the Washington Post, arts writer Matt Schudel profiled Wilber in an extensive obituary. To ...


Performance / Tour

Good Old New York: Bob Wilber at Birdland (September 1, 2010)

Good Old New York: Bob Wilber at Birdland (September 1, 2010)

Source: Jazz Lives by Michael Steinman

One of the more reassuring aspects of the New York jazz scene is that a few steady gigs remain—the Sunday and Monday night hoedowns at Arthur's Tavern on Grove Street; the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn on Sundays; Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (now on Monday and Tuesday) downstairs in the Hotel Edison. And this year David Ostwald's Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (or Gully Low Jazz Band) began its second decade of early-evening sessions at Birdland—Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:15. ...


Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Fletcher Henderson's...

Arbors Records


Soprano Summit - ...

Atlantic Records


Ode To Becht

New World Records



Atlantic Records


In The Mood For Swing

New World Records




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