In addition to being a band leader, Wilson has written arrangements for many other prominent artists including Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Julie London, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson and many more. During World War II, Wilson also performed for a brief time with the U.S. Navy, with musicians such as Clark Terry, Willie Smith and Jimmy Nottingham, among others. Recently (~2005), many of the members of the band reunited as "The Great Lakes Experience Big Band," with Wilson conducting and Ernie Andrews making a guest appearance at the invitation of Clark Terry. Wilson originally started out as trumpeter and arranger for Jimmie Lunceford.
He has also played and arranged for the bands of Benny Carter, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. Wilson formed his own band (The Gerald Wilson Orchestra), with some success in the mid-1940s. In 1960, Wilson formed a Los Angeles-based band that began a series of critically acclaimed recordings for the Pacific Jazz label. Musicians in the band at various times included lead trumpeter Snooky Young, trumpet soloist Carmell Jones and saxophonists Bud Shank, Joe Maini, Harold Land, Teddy Edwards, and Don Raffell. The rhythm section included guitarist Joe Pass, Richard Holmes (organist), vibists Roy Ayers and Bobby Hutcherson, and drummers Mel Lewis and Mel Lee.
His wife of over fifty years, Josefina Villasenor Wilson, is Mexican-American. A number of Wilson's compositions showed his love of Spanish/Mexican themes, especially "Viva Tirado," which later became a hit for the rock band El Chicano. Along with his wife, Wilson has three daughters (Jeri, Teri and Nancy Jo), his son Anthony (who is guitarist for Diana Krall), and a number of grandchildren, all of which have songs composed for them. Wilson continued leading bands and recording in later decades for the Discovery and MAMA labels. Recent musicians have included Luis Bonilla, Rick Baptist, Randall Willis, Wilson's son-in-law Shuggie Otis and son Anthony Wilson (both guitarists); his grandson Eric Otis has also played on such recordings.
Wilson continued to record Spanish-flavored compositions, notably the bravura trumpet solos "Carlos" (named for Mexican matador Carlos Arruza, and recorded three times over the years, featuring trumpeters Jimmy Owens, Oscar Brashear, and Ron Barrows) and "Lomelin" (also named for a matador—Antonio Lomelin—and recorded twice, with solos by Oscar Brashear and Jon Faddis). In 1998, Wilson received a commission from the Monterey Jazz Festival for an original composition, resulting in "Theme for Monterey," which was performed at that year's festival. In recent years, Wilson formed orchestras on the West and East coasts each with local outstanding musicians. He also made special appearances as guest conductor, including with the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band (now the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra of New York) the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and European Radio Jazz Orchestras including the BBC Big Band.
He was host of his own jazz show in the 1970s on the old jazz radio station KBCA in Los Angeles. Wilson was a member of the faculty at California State University, Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles, for many years recently winning a "teacher of the year" award. He also served on the faculty at California State University, Northridge in the 1970s where he taught Jazz History to wide acclaim among the student body and has also taught at Cal Arts in Los Angeles. In February 2006, Wynton Marsalis and The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra performed his music with Mr. Wilson conducting.
In June 2007, Wilson returned to the studio with producer Al Pryor and an all-star big band to record a special album of compositions originally commissioned and premiered at the Monterey Jazz Festival for the festival's 50th anniversary. Wilson had helped lead celebrations of the Monterey Jazz Festival's 20th and 40th anniversary with his specially commissioned works (1998's grammy nominated album Theme for Monterey). The album, Monterey Moods was released on Mack Avenue Records in September 2007. In September 2009, Wilson conducted his eight movement suite "Detroit" commissioned by the Detroit Jazz Festival in honor of its 30th anniversary.
The work includes a movement entitled "Cass Tech" in honor of his high school alma mater. Wilson died at his home in Los Angeles, California on September 8, 2014, after a brief illness that followed a bout of pneumonia which had hospitalized him. He was 96 years old. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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