Gerald Wilson: Keeper of the Flame That’s Still Burnin’

Distinguished Bandleader To Be Included In Two Upcoming Documentaries

Mack Avenue recording artist Gerald Wilson is a legend amongst those in the music community as a premier composer, trumpeter, arranger, bandleader and educator. His work, during his rich and varied seven-decade career, has supported some of the greatest names in jazz including Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn and Ray Charles, as well as a scorer for motion pictures and television shows such as Otto Preminger’s “Anatomy Of A Murder” and ABC’s variety program “The Red Foxx Show.”

Wilson also scored a top 40 pop hit with El Chicano’s version of his song “Viva Torado” in 1971. Recently, Wilson was in the studio recording new material for his sixth release for the Mack Avenue Records label (which is yet to be titled), a follow up to 2009’s Detroit.

The perennially inexhaustible bandleader will be included in two upcoming documentaries; the first about Cab Calloway produced by ARTE France and expected to air in America on PBS, and the other about Los Angeles’ storied Million Dollar Theater.

Wilson has earned seven Grammy nominations, a recent NAACP Image Award nomination, a NARAS President’s Merit Award, top Big Band and Composer/Arranger honors in the Downbeat International Critics Poll, the NEA American Jazz Masters Fellowship, two American Jazz Awards for Best Arranger and Best Big Band, and currently his masterpieces are ensconced in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. His love for jazz and his 30 year educational career in teaching music also earned him the Teacher of the Year award at UCLA in 2008. Most recently, The Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s Detroit (Mack Avenue, 2009) won “Record of the Year” at the 2010 JazzWeek Awards.

Despite earning such various accolades throughout his career, his road to success hasn’t always been easy. At 91 years old, Gerald Wilson has struggled through more than nine decades of opposition to contribute to the fight for civil rights and to share his passion for music with the world. Born in 1918 into a hotbed of racial tension in Shelby, Mississippi, Wilson was sent by his mother to live with family in the more tepid Detroit where his musical talents afforded him the rare opportunity to attend the performing arts school, Cass Tech High School, a school that was second only to Juilliard at the time. As Wilson will tell you, this is where his musical career truly began.

By the age of 26 Wilson had toured the US with Jimmie Lunceford’s band, served time in the Navy during World War II and wrote and played trumpet for Benny Carter and Les Hite before starting his own successful band, The Gerald Wilson Orchestra.

After reaching commercial success in the late ’40s and marrying his Mexican-American soul mate, Josefina Villasenor Wilson, Wilson’s passion for cultural immersion came to life both emotionally and creatively. Wilson began composing for more than half a dozen professional bullfighters. These masterpieces bonded Wilson in a lifelong kinship with the bullfighting community and afforded him the opportunity to be a member of the exclusive international bullfighting club, Los Aficionados des Los Angeles, and then honored with an award for contributing something positive to the world of tauromaquia (the world of the bull fight).

Hopping from one creative outlet to the next, in 1969 after intense study of his own on the art of classical music, Wilson was honored to receive an invitation from Zubin Mehta to compose a number for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

Wilson’s passion to incorporate his art into his selfless crusade for civil rights has remained paramount in his life and has touched the lives in countless cultures and countries around the world. When asking this humble legend about his great successes, Wilson, who will be 92 years old this September, responds with sincere humility, “I just try to be a person worthy of being a part of this great art form.”

For media information, please contact:

DL Media · (610) 667-0501

Don Lucoff ·

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 3:27 PM  Leave a Comment  

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