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Night Lights Classic Jazz

Last Of The Lions: Gerald Wilson

Two of longtime bandleader Gerald Wilson's finest orchestras--his progressive, modernistic 1940s outfit and his 1960s West Coast band.

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Gerald Wilson

Photo: Richard Newhouse

Gerald Wilson, who died September 8, 2014 at the age of 96, led big bands and recorded albums from the height of the swing era into the first years of the 21st century. Last Of The Lions: Gerald Wilson features two of his most significant outfits: a modernistic 1940s powerhouse that included up-and-coming musicians such as trumpeter Snooky Young and trombonist Melba Liston, and an all-star 1960s West Coast unit that highlighted soloists like tenor saxophonist Harold Land and guitarist Joe Pass.

Both bands exemplify the Wilson sound: layered, harmonically rich, and drawing on influences that range from Duke Ellington and 20th-century classical to traditional Mexican music.

This week’s Night Lights program taps classic Wilson recordings, such as:

  • his landmark 1945 arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop anthem “Groovin’ High”
  • his early-1960s radio staple “Blues for Yna Yna”
  • an early broadcast version of his take on Harold Arlen’s “Out of This World”
  • one of his several odes to bullfighters, “Viva Tirado”

A few years ago Mosaic Records issued a great anthology of Wilson’s 1960s big-band recordings, with insightful liner notes by longtime jazz critic Doug Ramsey. It’s now out of print, but for an excellent single-CD sampler from the same period, check out the relatively recent Gerald Wilson: The Artist Selects compilation, which covers the same era and includes brief remembrances of the pieces by Wilson himself.

Read: Jeff Sultanof runs down 12 essential Wilson recordings.

Watch: Gerald Wilson’s big band performing “Blues for Yna Yna” in the 1960s:

Correction: In the show I say that Wilson’s 1945 arrangement of “Out of This World” was never recorded commercially. While it’s true that the song was never recorded by the 1940s band, Wilson’s 1960s orchestra revisits the arrangement on the album Everywhere, included in the Mosaic set mentioned above. The version used on the program is a 1945 Jubilee radio broadcast.

Music Heard On This Episode

Viva Torada
Gerald Wilson — The Artist Selects (Blue Note, 2005)
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Viva Torada
Gerald Wilson — The Artist Selects (Blue Note, 2005)
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Groovin' High
Gerald Wilson — Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles 1921-56 (Rhino/WEA, 1999)
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Cruisin' With Cab
Gerald Wilson — Groovin' High in L.A. 1946 (Hep, 1995)
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Out of This World
Gerald Wilson — They All Had Rhythm 1945-46 (Hep, 2003)

Notes: Herb Jeffries on vocals.

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Come Sunday
Gerald Wilson — Groovin' High in L.A. 1946 (Hep, 1995)
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Dissonance in Blues
Gerald Wilson — Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles 1921-56 (Rhino/WEA, 1999)
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Blues for Yna Yna
Gerald Wilson — The Artist Selects (Blue Note, 2005)
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Josefina
Gerald Wilson — The Artist Selects (Blue Note, 2005)
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Milestones
Gerald Wilson — The Artist Selects (Blue Note, 2005)
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The Feather
Gerald Wilson — The Artist Selects (Blue Note, 2005)
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Teri
Gerald Wilson — The Artist Selects (Blue Note, 2005)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • http://www.mozaico.net/mosaics/ JamesHastle

    where have all these guys gone? Sorry, what I mean is where are these types of muscians whom obviously ooze talent gone to in the modern era? You only have to watch a few minutes of that video to appreciate the talent these guys had and how they hold the audience, you don’t see it these days or an I just getting old?

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