Gerald Wilson – Bio

In Bio on December 19, 2009 at 2:54 pm

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Photo by Richard Newhouse

Background information

  • Born September 4, 1918
  • Shelby, Mississippi, United States
  • Occupations Trumpeter, Bandleader, Composer
  • Instruments Trumpet, Piano

Gerald Stanley Wilson is an American jazz trumpeter, big band bandleader, composer/arranger, and educator. He has been based in Los Angeles since the early 1940s. Wilson was born in Shelby, Mississippi on September 4, 1918. He graduated from Cass Technical High School in Detroit. Wilson joined the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra in 1939, replacing its star trumpeter and arranger Sy Oliver. While with Lunceford, he contributed numbers to the band’s book, including “Hi Spook” and “Yard-dog Mazurka,” the latter being a big influence on Stan Kenton’s recording “Intermission Riff.”

During World War II, Gerald 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.

Big Band Years

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, with some success, in the mid-1940s. In 1960, Wilson formed a Los Angeles-based band that began a series of superb recordings for the Pacific Jazz label. Musicians in the band at various times included trumpeter Carmell Jones, tenor saxophonists Harold Land and Teddy Edwards, guitarist Joe Pass, 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 has continued leading bands and recording in the ensuing decades. Recent musicians have included his son-in-law Shuggie Otis and son Anthony Wilson, both guitarists; Gerald’s grandson, Eric Otis, has also played on such recordings. Wilson has 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 has formed orchestras on the West and East coasts each with local outstanding musicians. He also makes 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, and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble.

Composer, Arranger, Educator and more

In addition to leading his band, Gerald Wilson has written arrangements for others including Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Julie London, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Nancy Wilson to name a few.
He was host of his own jazz show in the 1970s on the old jazz radio station KBCA in Los Angeles.
Wilson has been a member of the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles, for many years, recently winning (late in his eighth decade!) 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. He currently “retired” from UCLA but will continue to contribute his vast knowledge and experience as a living “jazz legend” at UCLA and wherever his musical journey takes him.
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.

At this writing, Gerald Wilson continues to write and record at the age of 89, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He sacrificed greater fame to stay in California and write, conduct and teach. He accomplished his goal of being able to write any kind of music for any occasion, and remains a gracious, humble man who still has a lot to say and a worldwide audience to listen.


  • Detroit (2009)
  • Monterey Moods (2007)
  • In My Time (2005)
  • State Street Sweet
  • New York, New Sound (Mack Avenue MAC 31009 + MAC 1019)
  • The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra (Mosaic MD5-198)
  • The Artist Selects: Gerald Wilson (Blue Note 31439)
  • Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra 1946-1954 (Classics 1444)
  • Love You Madly (Discovery DSCD-947)

External links

The Legacy of Gerald Wilson – Panel Discussion on Detroit JazzStage – Jazz Extras

“Twelve Essential Gerald Wilson Recordings” by Jeff Sultanof, (

“Track Listing, Personnel & Recording Dates for The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson” by Mosaic Records, (

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