While deeply shaped by jazz, Wilson’s music stylistically owes as much to avant pop, Afro-Latin grooves and indie rock as the post-bop continuum. Wilson’s artistic work reflects a dynamic interplay of theater, jazz, dance, and film, which frame her unique, fresh compositional style. Sarah Wilson’s 2021 third album Kaleidoscope (Brass Tonic Records) reflects that unique chemistry inspired by some of the key musicians in her creative life. She’s joined by a nonpareil cast of improvisers, including pianist Myra Melford, drummer Matt Wilson, violinist Charles Burnham, bassist Jerome Harris, and guitarist John Schott.
Her music has premiered nationally and internationally and she has earned wide critical acclaim for her recordings including her 2010 Brass Tonic Records release, Trapeze Project. This CD features herself on trumpet and vocals with pianist Myra Melford, bassist Jerome Harris, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, and drummer Scott Amendola and showcases her "...danceable, visually evocative, and melodic music that is both sophisticated and accessible" (Jazziz).
Wilson's original work has earned numerous prestigious commissions from venerable foundations such as the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Center for Cultural Innovation, SF Arts Commission, Fleishhacker Foundation, Zellerbach Foundation, East Bay Community Foundation, New Music USA, and de Young Museum Cultural Encounters Initiative in collaboration with Intersection for the Arts.
Her music is fueled by large-scale community-based arts projects including a 2021 music production, Tenderloin Voices, in collaboration with the Tenderloin Museum and Larkin Street Youth Services working with formerly homeless youth. She was a 2011-2012 Artist Fellow at the de Young Museum with funding from The James Irvine Foundation and created Off the Walls, a music and aerial dance production in collaboration with LA-based dance company, Catch Me Bird.
Wilson didn't come to music through the usual channels. As an undergraduate anthropology major at the University of California at Berkeley, Wilson, a lapsed high school trumpet player, took a strong interest in theater. A visiting artist from Vermont’s globe-trotting Bread and Puppet Theater inspired her to move east to work on their spectacular giant-puppet productions after graduation. She spent two years as a member of the troupe touring around the world, increasingly conducting, arranging and performing music for their shows.
In 1993, she moved to New York City to concentrate on music, studying with trumpeters John McNeil and Laurie Frink and Schoenberg scholar, Paul Caputo. Through her affiliation with Bread and Puppet Theater, she soon found herself musical director and composer of Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival’s annual puppet program for a six-year tenure. Wilson absorbed other sources of inspiration from the eclectic downtown New York new music scene of the 1990s into her compositions, and found plenty of NYC’s heaviest jazz musicians to play them. She also scored the American Museum of Natural History’s Body Art exhibit and performed trumpet and vocals with NYC theater companies Circus Amok and Great Small Works.