Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 4 Sep. '18, Shelby MS) Trumpet, bandleader, composer. A highly rated all-round musician who deserved more fame; excellent trumpet player who rarely played solos and a leader who helped keep the big band alive. He played in clubs and went on the road late '30s; replaced Sy Oliver in Jimmie Lunceford band '39-42 (wrote 'Hi Spook'; co-wrote 'Yard Dog Mazurka'); settled on West Coast; worked for Les Hite, Benny Carter, Willie Smith; led his own big band in L.A. mid-'40s; with Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie late '40s (Wilson wrote 'Katy', 'Dizzier And Dizzier' for Gillespie; his then wife Melba Liston also played with Gillespie; see her entry). He and Liston were famously abandoned on the road '50 during a Billie Holiday tour that collapsed because of an unusual degree of mismanagement, probably Holiday's boyfriend John Levy (not the bassist John Levy) stealing all the money.
Wilson left music but returned '52, led a band in San Francisco; wrote for Duke Ellington ('Smile' and 'If I Give My Heart To You' on Capitol). Studio work included a Larry Williams session on Specialty. His albums on Pacific Jazz, then World Pacific '61-9 included Portraits '63, reissued on CD, and The Golden Sword, later on Discovery; first-rate sidemen included Joe Pass, Harold Land, Teddy Edwards etc; he led a big rehearsal/workshop band. (The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings Of Gerald Wilson And His Orchestra compiled ten albums on five CDs on Mosaic Records with a booklet by Doug Ramsey.) He arranged albums Man Of Many Parts for Buddy Collette on Contemporary, Unforgettable for Johnny Hartman on ABC-Paramount, Yesterday's Love Songs for Nancy Wilson on Capitol, Things Ain't What They Used To Be for Ella Fitzgerald on Reprise, Al Hirt Live At Carnegie Hall on RCA, others for Al Hibbler, Bobby Darin, Julie London. Ella sang his 'Imagine My Frustration' on LP Ella At Duke's Place with Ellington on Verve. He played trumpet solos on Leroy Walks! by bassist Leroy Vinnegar on Contemporary; also did film work, wrote for symphony orchestra, had popular radio interview show on KBCA L.A., etc. Interested in the bullfight: his 'Viva Tirado' recorded by LA band El Chicano for a top 30 hit '70. More albums included Lomelin '81 and Love You Madly on Discovery; Jessica '84 and Calafia '86 on Trend by Gerald Wilson's Orchestra of the '80s included Land; State Street Sweet on Mama; two-CD Suite Memories: Reflections On A Jazz Journey from the Mama Foundation has little music, but valuable and generous oral history from someone who's been making it for nearly 60 years.