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Gerald Wilson: Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1945-46

What a career Gerald Wilson’s has! He began writing and playing trumpet for Jimmy Lunceford in 1939 and hasn’t quit since. Wilson deserves a great deal of credit for his compositions “Yard Dog Mazurka” and “Hi Spook,” written for Lunceford, which forecast the “progressive” music of Stan Kenton, Boyd Raeburn and Earle Spencer. Kenton’s “Intermission Riff” appropriated thematic material from “Yard Dog Mazurka.”

These tracks were cut for the Excelsior and Black and White labels in Los Angeles, where Wilson led a fine big band in the mid-’40s. The characteris-tics of his writing for Lunceford were still apparent, but he’d been absorbing bop influences. There’s a recording of “Groovin’ High” on the CD cut just after Dizzy Gillespie’s.

The music here was meant to please a popular audience. Eleven of the CD’s twenty tracks contain vocals by various singers including Betty Roche. But Wilson’s full-bodied, richly voiced writing stands out everywhere. The instrumental numbers are fresh and powerful. The solo work’s compelling too, with some of the improvisers in transition between swing and bop styles. Trumpeter Hobart Dotson plays impressive, majestic solos in a style that has something in common with Gillespie’s and Freddie Webster’s. Pianist Jimmy Bunn turns in brilliant, many-noted solos that show the influence of Teddy Wilson and bop. He has a nice light touch and articulates crisply and cleanly. Not only is this CD a joy to listen to, it’s a valuable document, illustrating how LA musicians were reacting to the innovations of Charlie Parker and Gillespie in bop’s formative years.

Originally Published