Gerald Wilson is one of my musical heroes. I’ve been enjoying him since the mid-1970s. He once had a noon-2 show on KBCA, LA’s commercial jazz station along with host Dennis Smith. Gerald would always call younger jazz musicians such as Freddie Hubbard “fine young men”. He’d also call older jazz musicians “fine young men”. He knew everything about jazz, a walking encyclopedia.
Gerald Wilson has a wonderful new cd out called Legacy, on the Mack Avenue label.
Gerald’s also a walking historian of the LA Jazz scene. He came here after a stint as arranger for the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra which began in 1939. He worked on Central Ave, LA’s version of New York’s 52nd Street, which during the 1940s was the epicenter of the LA Jazz Scene. Clubs were open until all hours, the Dunbar Hotel served up deluxe accommodations to visiting artists, and you would regularly encounter Nat Cole, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Art Tatum, and other jazz titans.
Gerard Wilson – Virgo
When I interviewed Gerald years ago, along with the late Buddy Collette, Cy Touf and Steve Isoardi—author of Central Avenue Sounds, the history of Central Avenue—Gerald was like a steel trap memory-wise. Whereas other guests couldn’t remember exact dates, performances, etc., Gerald could remember who was in the audience, what people were wearing, who took what solo, the works. He truly provided a time capsule of the scene.
I saw his band perform many times at places such as The Pilgrimage Theatre, now called the John Anson Ford Theatre, off Cahuenga near the Hollywood Bowl.
Gerald provided a stage for many young jazz men and women to showcase and develop their talents. People like Bobby Bryant, Harold Land Jr., Jack Wilkins, and many others. His compositions and arrangements created excitement both in the band and in the audience. Gerald also arranged for Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Julie London, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington, just to mention a few.
Gerald was the most popular professor at Cal State Northridge for years. He’s repeated it at UCLA for years now. I wish he’d been teaching when I was at UCLA! I would have sat in the first row for a change.
I approached the late General Manager of KJZZ (formerly KLON, run by Cal State Long Beach) a few years ago, about wanting to see Gerald get a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame. I also asked Kenny Burrell about this. Both were in agreement and supported the idea.
Johnny Grant is no longer the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood. Gary Owens and Angelyne are vying for the position. We need somebody to help get Gerald his much-deserved star soon. He is now 92…it’s high time. He has impacted and improved the cultural life of LA for over 70 years. Maybe Herb Alpert, a trumpet player with significant means, can help make this happen. I sure hope so. Here’s the band in action: