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Pianist Gerald Wiggins Dies at 86

Gerald Wiggins, 86, a pianist who led a Los Angeles-based trio, and whose credits included work with Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter, Lou Rawls, Jimmy Witherspoon, Eartha Kitt, Roy Eldridge, Zoot Sims, Lena Horne, Helen Humes, Ella Mae Morse, Kay Starr, Joe Williams and Nat “King” Cole, died July 13 in Los Angeles. The cause was not reported but Wiggins was known to have been in poor health.

Wiggins, who also served as a vocal coach for Marilyn Monroe and who began his career as accompanist for the actor Stepin Fetchit, was born in New York City on May 12, 1922. He first studied classical piano but became interested in jazz while in his teens, after hearing a recording by pianist Art Tatum.

Wiggins joined the big band of Les Hite in 1942 and played with Armstrong and Carter before entering the Army in 1944 for two years. Upon his release he settled in L.A. and became an active accompanist, also launching his own trio. Often called “The Wig,” Wiggins, beginning in 1953, recorded numerous albums as a leader for such labels as Swing, Vogue, Hi-Fi, Discovery, Dig, Challenge, Contemporary and Concord.

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