Gerald Wilson (1918-2014)

by Chad Campbell, senior producer

This was written in June of 2011, when Gerald Wilson released his album Legacy. The jazz great died this past Monday in his Los Angeles home at the age of 96.

What’s left to accomplish for a 92-year-old jazz icon who has literally done it all in his seven-decade music career? Gerald Wilson is a trumpeter, pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader who worked with giants like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Billie Holliday, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. For his latest album, Legacy, Gerald Wilson had the joy of working with his family members. Wilson’s grandson Eric Otis and his son Anthony Wilson each contributed original compositions to the CD. And both are accomplished musicians in their own right. 

Gerald Wilson got his big break with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra way back in 1939. From there he went into the service and played with the Navy Band. Then he settled in Los Angeles and formed his own successful orchestra. At the prime of his career, at the peak of his success, Wilson realized he still had so much more to learn. He put his career on hold to study classical music. Then he started teaching at various California colleges, mostly at UCLA where he taught a wildly popular class on the history of jazz. Wilson integrated the Flamingo Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, composed for Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and married a young, Mexican-American fan named Josefina and wrote a song for her (They’re still married, more than 50 years later). In fact most people, places and things dear to Gerald Wilson’s heart have songs composed and named for them.

To read more about Gerald Wilson, click here. And here. Or here.