Joe Wilder was one of the best trumpet players that people have never heard of. Playing mostly in pit bands for musicals and TV shows like Dick Cavett’s, he wasn’t well-known. Wilder was so busy working with other bands that he rarely recorded anything as a leader.
I got turned onto him by the late jazz wizard, Will Thornbury, who did music shows for KCRW from 1979 until his death in the mid 1990s. He introduced me to Wilder’s LP Softy With Feeling and a cut called “Cherokee,” based on the changes of the famous Ray Noble standard. Wilder had a stunning tone filled with lyricism, beautifully constructed and executed.
Wilder was also a gentleman, diplomat, and eloquent statesman during the civil rights era. In 1949, at a club in Chicago, he was greeted with racial slurs by some rowdy college kids. According to Steve Chawkin’s LA Times obituary, Wilder gently but firmly put them in their place by telling them, “I know you probably don’t understand just how offensive this is. At some point, you’re going to say something like that in the wrong place, and you’ll wind up getting yourselves hurt.”
Joe Wilder was born in 1922 in Colwyn, PA which is a town outside of Philadelphia. Wilder broke the color barrier as a U.S. Marine in World War II, and later as one of the first African-Americans to play in Broadway orchestras. He was bespoke, didn’t drink or smoke, which may have contributed to his longevity. Wilder was one of the greats. If you want to learn more about this exemplary artist and human being, listen to his classic 1953 album Softly With Feeling and check out his biography of the same title.
Here is that beautiful solo from “Cherokee” from 1953.