Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Alexander LaFayette Chew Wilder, 16 February 1907, Rochester NY; d 23 December 1980, Gainesville FL) Composer, lyricist. He studied at Eastman School of Music, Rochester NY, and collaborated with Howard Dietz and Edward Brandt on 'All The King's Horses' for hit revue Three's A Crowd '30 (the show also included Johnny Green's 'Body And Soul).

Wilder went on to write several hundred popular, descriptive jazz and classical works, etc including standards 'I'll Be Around' '43 (used in film The Joe Louis Story, recorded by the Mills Brothers, Mildred Bailey, by Frank Sinatra (on his album In The Wee Small Hours), many others; 'While We're Young', 'It's So Peaceful In The Country', 'Who Can I Turn To?', 'April Age', 'I Wish I Had The Blues Again', 'Where Is The One?', many more. He co-wrote 'J. P. Dooley III', recorded by Harry James '42 with vocal quartet (including James); also words for Eddie Sauter's 'All The Cats Join In', played by Benny Goodman in Walt Disney's Make Mine Music '45. Songs for the minor movie Open The Door (And See All The People) were 'Mimosa And Me' and 'Such A Lovely Girl' (sung by Jackie Cain and Roy Kral on their album Lovesick), also 'I See It Now' (by Mabel Mercer on her Second Town Hall Concert, with Bobby Short). Collections of his songs include Elaine Sings Wilder '66 (Elaine Delmar, b 13 September 1939, Harpenden, Herts; appearances on the London stage included No Strings '61, Bubbling Brown Sugar '77; other albums on Polydor, World; S'Wonderful recorded live at Ronnie Scott's club and issued on his label). Marlene VerPlanck Sings Alec Wilder on Audiophile is highly recommended, including 'The Lady Sings The Blues', which he wrote for Billie Holiday, but she was too ill to record it. (Not to be confused with another song which she did record, written to a tune by Herbie Nichols.)

Six pieces of Wilder's chamber music were conducted by Sinatra on Columbia in 1945, and Wilder recorded some of his own unorthodox work with an octet: 'Neurotic Goldfish', 'Sea Fugue Mama', 'A Debutante's Diary'. His 'light classical' music was too pop for the classical world and too longhair for pop; in Europe he would have found a niche, but in the he was not marketable. An eccentric bachelor, he lived for over 50 years at NYC's Algonquin Hotel and at the Sheraton in Rochester. His last songs were written for Sinatra, 'The Long Night' and 'One More Road'. He most often collaborated with lyricist William Engvick, but wrote words for songs such as 'Where Is The One?' by Edwin Finckel, and '(So You've Had A) Change Of Heart' by Roy Kral, while words are still being written to Wilder's tunes. His books included the classic survey American Popular Song: The Great Innovators '72 with James T. Maher, in which he was too modest to include his own work (there was also a National Public Radio series '76) and Letters I Never Mailed '75, insights into people and music.

(Wilder's chamber music has remained obscure, but you never know where influences will turn up. On the album Classified, by the Brubeck Brothers Quartet [Dan on drums, Chris on bass and trombone], released in 2008, some of the arrangements, featuring bassoon, oboe, flute, French horn and clarinet, exhibit a querulous whimsy like Wilder's. Their father Dave had studied with Darius Milhaud, some of whose music might have fit in the same niche as Wilder's.)