Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gerald Wilson: Legacy

Mack Avenue Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Legacy

Legacy is a perfect title for and album that honors and celebrates the life of living legend Gerald Wilson. The man was born in Mississippi in 1918 — that’s not a misprint — and still composes and orchestrates marvelous jazz.

Wilson earned a degree from Detroit’s Cass Technical High School, then joined Jimmie Lunsford’s band (replacing the great Sy Oliver) as a trumpeter, composer and arranger; Wilson was 21 at the time. He subsequently played and arranged with Benny Carter, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie. During World War II, Wilson was a member of the famous U.S. Navy Band, stationed at the Great Lakes facility. He formed his first name band in the mid-1940s; in 1960, he headed a Los Angeles band that produced a number of hit albums under the Pacific Jazz label.

Wilson never has "retired," although he has restricted his efforts to composition and orchestration for some decades.

The Legacy orchestra truly is a big band: four trumpets, four trombones, six reeds and four in the rhythm section. More important to Wilson, it’s also a family affair: His son Anthony Wilson is the guitarist, and he and Gerald’s grandson Eric Otis each contributed a composition and orchestration for this session ("Virgo" and "September Sky," respectively).

The first five tracks are from the entire Wilson clan; the final seven, done by Gerald, are movements from his Yes, Chicago Is… suite, which was commissioned by the Chicago Jazz Festival. These relatively short melodies — between one and four minutes — relate to locations and "conditions" ("Blowin’ In the Windy City") associated with that “great jazz Mecca,” as Wilson describes it.

This delicious album is a perfect indicator of the timelessness of both jazz and Wilson. Nothing sounds dated; the music and performances are pure and swinging. If you aren't already a huge fan of the ageless Gerald Wilson, you soon will be.

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