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Trumpeter Joe Wilder Dies at 92

NEA Jazz Master played with big bands and was active in TV and Broadway

Joe Wilder
Joe Wilder

Joe Wilder, a trumpeter, cornetist and flugelhornist most popular during the era of the big bands, died May 9 in New York City. A veteran of the orchestras of Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and others, Wilder was 92. The cause of death was congestive heart failure.

A classically trained trumpeter, Wilder was born Feb. 22, 1922 in Colwyn, Pa., and raised in Philadelphia. He attended the Mastbaum Technical High School and by his teens was performing in big bands. After graduating, he joined the band of Les Hite. Wilder then joined Hampton’s band in 1943 but entered the military during that year (Wilder rejoined that band upon his discharge.). In 1947, Wilder moved to New York City, where he played in the band of saxophonist Jimmie Lunceford and was one of the first black musicians to play in Broadway pit bands. Wilder also played with Lucky Millinder in the late ’40s and with Dizzy Gillespie, among others.

In 1954, Wilder joined Basie’s band, albeit for less than a year; during that period he also sat in with progressive musicians such as Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. In 1962, Wilder joined Goodman’s band and toured the Soviet Union on a State Department-sponsored junket. In the 1960s, Wilder also performed with the New York Philharmonic. Wilder also served as a sideman with vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte, and with bandleaders and instrumentalists such as Quincy Jones, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Charles Mingus, Hank Jones and Gil Evans.

Wilder was also active in television, working with ABC-TV for 17 years, and also recorded for jingles. He was a member of the band on The Dick Cavett Show, and worked with The Cosby Show, among other television programs.

Wilder recorded only a handful of albums as a leader, including titles for Columbia and Savoy in the ’50s and for Evening Star in the ’90s and ’00s. Artists who employed Wilder for their recordings included Yusef Lateef, Shirley Scott, the Heath Brothers, Houston Person, Benny Carter and Tadd Dameron.

Wilder was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2008

Originally Published