Back in 1939, Gerald Wilson joined the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra as a trumpet soloist and an arranger. 66 years later, Wilson is still very active, having long been considered one of the top arrangers, composers and big band leaders in the history of jazz. 86 as of this writing, he has lost none of his enthusiasm, skills or creativity, and still manages to sound quite modern.
Throughout his career, Gerald Wilson has received incredible acclaim, including winning the Downbeat International Critics Poll both as a composer/arranger and for his big band, and winning the Paul Robeson Award, the NEA American Jazz Masters Fellowship, and a pair of American Jazz Awards. He has been elected to the Mississippi Jazz Hall of Fame, has had his life's work archived by the Library of Congress and has earned six Grammy nominations. But his real legacy is his music itself.
Gerald Wilson, jazz’s reigning composer/orchestrator pays homage to his adopted hometown, Chicago on his fifth Mack Avenue Records release, "Legacy." Composers Igor Stravinsky and Giacomo Puccini also receive Wilson’s musical tips of the hat. Wilson’s son, guitarist/composer Anthony Wilson, and grandson Eric Otis are also represented by a composition/orchestration apiece, thus extending Gerald’s musical legacy.
In 2011The Gerald Wilson Orchestra assembled for Legacy comprises many of the great jazz artists who've been Gerald's collaborators for the lion’s share of his Mack Avenue canon. A first-class rhythm section of pianist Renee Rosnes, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash anchors the group. Trumpeters Sean Jones, Jeremy Pelt, Tony Lujan and Mike Rodriguez and trombonists Dennis Wilson, Douglas Purviance, Luis Bonilla and Alan Ferber stud the brass section. Antonio Hart Dick Oatts, Kamasi Washington, Ron Blake, Jay Brandford and Gary Smulyan comprise the reeds. Al Pryor continues as Wilson’s producer for this collection of tributes and portraits.
"The musicians in the band were really into the music and they are brilliant players," enthused Wilson. "They are at home everywhere they are, in every bar of music." The same can be said for the veteran bandleader.
Born in Shelby, Mississippi in 1918, Gerald Wilson knew early on that he was going to be a musician. While living in Detroit, he studied harmony and orchestration at Cass Tech in addition to working on his trumpet chops. In 1939, when he got the call to join Jimmie Lunceford's orchestra, he was ready. "When I got a chance to join them," remembers Wilson, "I was thrilled to death. The Jimmie Lunceford band was at the top of the heap at the time and they could outdraw everyone. They had such creative arrangements by Edwin Wilcox, Sy Oliver and Eddie Durham, and their musicians were very good. I made my first arrangements for them, "Yard Dog Mazurka" and "Hi Spook."