Portrait of Gerald Wilson

Photo by Tom Pich/tompich.com

Gerald Wilson

Trumpeter, Composer, Arranger, Bandleader

Bio

Gerald Wilson's use of multiple harmonies was a hallmark of his big bands, earning him a reputation as a leading composer and arranger. His band was one of the greats in jazz, leaning heavily on the blues but integrating other styles. His arrangements influenced many musicians that came after him, including multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, who dedicated the song "G.W." to Wilson on his 1960 release Outward Bound.

Wilson started out on the piano, learning from his mother, then taking formal lessons and classes in high school in Memphis, Tennessee. The family moved to Detroit in 1934, enabling him to study in the noted music program at Cass Tech High School. As a professional trumpeter, his first jobs were with the Plantation Club Orchestra. He took Sy Oliver's place in the Jimmie Lunceford band in 1939, remaining in the seat until 1942, when he moved to Los Angeles.

In California, he worked in the bands of Benny Carter, Les Hite, and Phil Moore. When the Navy sent him to its Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago, he found work in Willie Smith's band. He put together his own band in late 1944, which included Melba Liston, and replaced the Duke Ellington band at the Apollo Theatre when they hit New York. Wilson's work as a composer-arranger enabled him to work for the Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie bands. Wilson then accompanied Billie Holiday on her tour of the South in 1949.

In the early 1960s, he again led his own big bands. His series of Pacific Jazz recordings established his unique harmonic voice, and Mexican culture—especially the bullfight tradition—influenced his work. His appearance at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival increased his popularity.

He  contributed his skill as an arranger and composer to artists ranging from Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, and Ella Fitzgerald to the Los Angeles Philharmonic to his guitarist-son Anthony. Additionally he was a radio broadcaster at KBCA and a frequent jazz educator. Among his more noted commissions were one for the 40th anniversary of the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1998, which he revisited in 2007 with his album Monterey Moods, and one for the 30th anniversary of the Detroit International Jazz Festival in 2009.

Selected Discography

1945-46, Classics, 1945-46
The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings, Mosaic, 1961-69
Love You Madly, Discovery, 1982
Theme For Monterey, Mama, 1998
Detroit, Mack Avenue, 2009

Interview by Molly Murphy for the National Endowment for the Arts
October 25, 2006
Edited by Don Ball

THE INFLUENCE OF DETROIT

Q: Were there any experiences when you were young that might have given you a glimmer that you might pursue jazz?

Gerald Wilson: Well, in my case, I come from a musical family. My mother is a musician. She's a pianist and she's a schoolteacher also and she played the piano for the school -- the small school that I attended in a small town in Mississippi. She started all of her children out about the age of four or five on the piano, started teaching them on piano, and then of course I was the youngest in the family. She started me out around about four on the piano and I learned little pieces and got to some other things pretty good, but later on I wanted to go to the trumpet.
But you were speaking about jazz. My brother loved jazz. He was a piano player too, and he would tell me about all the things happening in jazz. During those years I would get a chance to see many of the great jazz musicians coming from New Orleans, which is about 260 miles from my home, and they would have to come through my hometown to get to Chicago...and I got a chance to see many of them as a young kid around about seven and eight years old. I was just thrilled at all of these stories he was telling me, and he had all of the recordings that he would play them for me when he'd come home every year from school. I just got so I loved the music and I knew that was what I wanted to do. I would stay up late at night to hear Duke Ellington and Earl Hines and Claude Hopkins and all of the bands that were broadcasting and playing. At that time I decided this would be my life.

Q: You were really young when you figured that out.

Gerald Wilson: I was. I got away from the piano when I was about 10. My mother got me a trumpet. I wanted a trumpet. I wanted to be a trumpet player because I wanted to play in the school marching bands at the schools I attended. I wanted to be there with a horn.

I had seen the kids coming from Piney Woods, Mississippi. It was a music school. (It's still there by the way. It's big now of course. It's not a segregated school anymore.) I'd see these young kids marching and it was just a thrill to me and so I was lucky. My school that I went to in Shelby where I was born only went through the eighth grade. After that you had to go somewhere else to go to high school so I was lucky to go to Memphis, Tennessee. My home was only 80 some miles from Memphis and there I was able to go to high school and I had a great trumpet teacher there that taught our band. I actually went to the same school where Jimmie Lunceford had been a teacher and I had heard all about their band because they were very popular. They started in Memphis, the Jimmie Lunceford band, so it was just a good thing for me there.

I was lucky enough to go to the Worlds Fair in Chicago in 1934 and I got a chance to see bands there. I saw Cab Calloway and the Mills Brothers and this only got me more into it and of course with those places being different from the South, I wanted to go there to enjoy the other things that were good in the North but my mother couldn't send me to Chicago but she could send me to Detroit and so I was lucky enough to go to Detroit.

One thing I can say about Detroit too that many people may not know: Detroit was at that time one of the most advanced cities in the United States because all of their schools were integrated. They were integrated. So this was the thing: that not only did I get the music thing I'm looking for but also I'm looking for freedom at that time. Do you understand? I think I was just lucky to go to Detroit at that time because had it been Chicago it would have been quite different. Chicago was not like Detroit.

When I went to Detroit I was 16 years old. The people that I stayed with, they were friends of my mother. They had lived in my hometown where I was born so they were not relatives but they were people who knew me and so I stayed there with them and I was able to go to Cass Tech in Detroit, which is one of the greatest schools in the world for music. It's like Juilliard. It's music all day long, just a couple of academics each year, and the rest is all music. I stayed there five years. I had to take piano again. I had to take one string instrument for a year, had to take orchestration, harmony. So they really prepared me for the time to get out into the world and then being in the city after a couple of years I started joining bands there that were fine young bands and learned a lot from the new bands I was with. These were the remnants of the McKinney's Cotton Pickers Band and I learned a lot from those guys because they knew a lot about music, stayed with them a couple of years, and then right out of there I got a call to join Jimmie Lunceford's band when I was 18.

ARRANGING AND COMPOSING

Q: I know you wrote and arranged a couple of tunes for that band. Were you just sort of waiting for the chance to do that?

Gerald Wilson: What happened was that I had studied harmony and orchestration and everything but I did one little arrangement for this band I was telling you about, the McKinney's Cotton Picker guys there, and it sounded pretty good. The next arrangement that I made was the first one I made for the Lunceford band after I joined it, and I didn't quite make it on that one. They played it one time and that was it. They never played it again but then my next one was a number that I wrote for the band called "High Spook" and it was one of the biggest hits that they had. Then my next one was also a bigger hit than that one, which was called "Yard Dog Mazurka." So at that time then I knew I was on the right track.

Q: You must have been nervous waiting to hear them play something that you wrote for the first time.

Gerald Wilson: All the time. In the beginning, yeah. You're waiting to hear -- how is it going to work? As I say, after those two worked, I kept going on and I kept writing. Now I have other numbers that I had written for the band that I had never heard before because I left the band but they played my music after I left. I arranged some numbers for the band after I left the Jimmie Lunceford band and so I was lucky enough to keep on writing for them, but by that time I knew what it was going to sound like before they played it. In other words, I know exactly how it's going to sound. I can hear it all because I have written it. I know this works. It's like you know that 2 and 2 make 4.

Q: You write everything by hand?

Gerald Wilson: No. Well, they didn't have any computers…Actually, my writing now has come down to a thing where I'm just a lucky guy actually. My grandson, he's a musician and he plays the guitar, he plays classical, he plays the blues, he plays jazz. He can do everything. He's studied hard. So all I do now, see, I have macular degeneration. I can't see to write and all I have to do is tell my grandson first trumpet, A, second space, dotted half note, whatever, eighth note.

Q: You're playing it on the piano.

Gerald Wilson: I'm doing it on the piano and I'm telling him where to put the notes because I'm actually teaching him how to orchestrate now. When he finishes with me he's going to be an orchestrator. He can write music himself but he wouldn't be able to write for big orchestras. When he finishes with me doing all this stuff that I'm doing, he'll be able to orchestrate. I can depend on him because my latest two albums -- that's the way I did it and it's all correct. There's no mistakes or anything. And so I'm lucky to have a grandson like that that can do that.

Q: When you're writing a composition are there any components that you try to keep in mind that you know will make a good composition or are you just finding your way based on your own judgment?

Gerald Wilson: You know, I decide which way I want to go harmonically and rhythmically and that's what I do. I just start from there. I don't make a sketch. A lot of guys would make a sketch and then they go back and they'll make the orchestration but I don't make a sketch. I never did, and when I put it down at first that's the way it's going to be and I still do that that way. I don't give it any other thought than that. If I get ready to start the work, I just go and start. Well, which way will I go today? How do I want to go today? Well, many of the things that are being done now in orchestration I have been able to advance because my harmony has advanced now from four part-harmony actually to eight, nine, and ten parts. I'll have a book coming out soon so that many of the writers can latch onto it.

MEXICAN INFLUENCE

Q: I want to ask you about some of your other compositions that have Mexican influence. I understand that you have an interest in bullfighting.

Gerald Wilson: Well, I'll tell you. My wife is Mexican and she's exposed me to her culture. We've been married 53 years and that's my other family now and I've been into that culture. I've been into, as you said, the bullfights. I've written 12 or 13 numbers for bullfighters.

I've been to Mexico. Of course, you can't get it all. They got a lot of music. They're very musical people and I learned to hear the sounds. When I wrote my first numbers for them, you wonder whether they're going to accept this music. Like I wrote a number for Carlos Arruza, who was the greatest matador in the world at one time, and you wonder if they're going to say, "Why should you write a number for me?" You know what I mean? But you find afterward they like it and so it makes me know that I'm on the right track there. I can write other ways other than that, than the way that I write in jazz, but that's all to my wife, because I'd be there with the family, because they exposed me to their culture. The same thing happened when we got to Spain. We knew the matadors. They knew who the guy is. He's the guy that writes music for matadors.

Q: One composition that you wrote that was sampled or performed by so many people --

Gerald Wilson: "Viva Tirado".

Q: What does that mean?

Gerald Wilson: "Viva" means to live. Tirado is the name of the matador. His name is Jose Ramon Tirado.

Q: Who was he?

Gerald Wilson: Well, he was a young matador that I saw during one of my first bullfights, not the very first one, I think it was about the second or third, but he was very young. I think he was still in his teens and I was just amazed at how he went about it. He was very brave and he did beautiful passes, which I didn't know all about the passes like I know now. I used to know the names of all of them and everything, but he did them well and so I wanted to write some music that would represent him. So a lot of the music represents the passes that he made. The rhythm that I will have in the notes that I'm playing is trying to catch these passes, to catch what they're doing. You see them doing things with the muletta and the cape . To try to catch that the cape was moving like this at that time. And he was very thrilled with it. He's still living. He doesn't fight anymore but he's still living. It made him one of the most famous bullfighters in the world.

WORKING WITH COUNT BASIE AND DUKE ELLINGTON

Q: You wear so many hats, conductor, arranger, trumpeter, bandleader, teacher. Do you identify with one of those things more than the other? Do you think of yourself primarily as one of those things?

Gerald Wilson: Well, after I went through all of the different phases of music that I wanted to write -- I wanted to write for other artists, singers, and I wanted to write for the movies, wanted to write for television, and eventually my ultimate goal at that time was to be able to write for symphony orchestras. My band was very successful during this period. It was 1945 and '46. I had made my first records and I had been very successful with them and I was out on the road. Actually, at the time that I decided that I was going to stop to study some more, Ella Fitzgerald and I were a team. We were playing in a big nightclub in St. Louis together where we broke all records together. And so it was there that I realized that I'm booked way up. I'm booked up for about a year and money that I had never thought of, you know, $100,000 worth of contracts, and I said, "This is not it. I want to go somewhere else." And I said, "The only thing that's going to get me there is to start studying again." So that's what I did. I disbanded my band after that engagement. Everyone said, "Well, you know, Gerald, he's kind of flaky, you know, and everything, he's crazy or something." And I said, "No," and I went on home and I studied and I studied and I studied. I'm studying a lot of classical music now too because I'm pretty hip with the jazz. On my own. I wasn't studying to learn how to write from any other writers because I wanted to write a different way. Even when I wrote classical I was going to write different. So what I did was I studied very hard and things begin to develop in my mind. That was '46, '47, '48.

In 1948, Count Basie asked me to join his band and I joined his band for two years so I came back to New York. I was with Basie and I wrote for Count Basie and I wrote for his first Carnegie Hall concert. I had eight numbers on his first Carnegie Hall thing. I learned a lot there because that helped me with my jazz because I was able to join the band when it was practically the original band. We had the original All-American Rhythm Section, which of course is Count Basie on piano, Walter Page on bass, Freddie Green on the guitar, and Jo Jones on the drums. I'm in the trumpet section. I can watch Jo Jones as he played the drums and see what he does when he plays certain things, how he does it, and over on Page, I can see what Page is doing because Page was one of the first ones to do what we called the walking bass. Instead of playing four notes he played more or less like scale. And so I'm able to watch him and I learned just what to do in the rhythm and I'm listening to Count, how he does on the piano. I'm just watching everything and I'm learning a lot from some good jazz arrangements because he had some fine jazz arrangers that worked for him, Jimmy Mundy and Buck Clayton, all these guys that worked for him. They were terrific so I was able to hear their music because I'm playing it and so I learned a lot by being with Count Basie. I spent the two years with him and then I decided to come back home to Los Angeles and that's when I got involved in television and movies and stuff, and the symphony.

My ultimate goal was the symphonic orchestra, and I got an invitation from Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic to write a composition for their orchestra, which I wrote, and they liked it. It was very good. Then I scored four more things for their orchestra, so I had reached my goal. Now I'm going back to where I want to be.

Jazz is my life. That's my heritage because jazz was invented by the blacks of America, not the blacks from Africa. They don't have any jazz in Africa now. They don't have any jazz in Haiti. They don't have any jazz in Cuba. Well, you got two or three that dabble but you can't get it unless you get the environment and the other things that go with it. Like I can't play the Cuban music like they play. I can try to copy them but they can do it. You know what I mean? As I say, it's my heritage and now all I do is jazz. That's all I do. I wrote for all the vocalists, so many big vocalists, wrote for Duke Ellington's band for years. I wrote for Duke Ellington for many years. He called me to write for him. Duke was one of my favorite musicians. Actually, he was my favorite. He was my number one man.

Q: When you were writing for all these different bands like Basie and Ellington, would you write specifically for those bands' soloists?

Gerald Wilson: Well, actually writing for Duke Ellington was easy because he had all those great people there. They are the sound of his band. It's not just the music that he writes. That same music could be played by another band, but it won't sound the same because you won't have Harry Carney, you won't have Johnny Hodges, you won't have Lawrence Brown, you won't have Cat Anderson, you won't have Clark Terry and people like that. And so once you write it, it sounds like Duke Ellington wrote it. In fact, he didn't put on the record that it was orchestrated and arranged by Gerald Wilson. He just let the people think he wrote it. I kid about it all the time. He didn't want me to try to write like him. "I want you to write like you. You write like you want to write for me."

TEACHING

Q: What's your teaching schedule these days?

Gerald Wilson: I teach at UCLA and I've been there 17 years and I have the largest jazz class in the world. It's 480 students in my class.

Well, five days, six days ago I have just won the Teacher of the Year. And the way that they come to determine to give you this award is not from some committee. It's from your students. See, every semester your students evaluate you and that's what they use. They use the evaluation of the students, what they say about you. They say what you do and how they like you or why they like you or whatever they put and that's what determines whether you would win or not. So I'm lucky there and three months ago or two months ago I was in New York and I won first place with my latest album for my band [New York, New Sound], that I had the best jazz band in the whole world of jazz and you get that from votes. I won over all the bands that they had nominated. I guess there's no more I could ask for.

Q: What organization gave you that award?

Gerald Wilson: That's the International Association of Jazz Journalists. All of these people write for jazz magazines and the Times and [other media].

Q: What's the class you teach at UCLA? Is it a history of jazz?

Gerald Wilson: Yes. It's called The Development of Jazz. It's the history but by me being a jazz musician I'm able to give them some extra things than from a guy that's going to teach the history of jazz who just reads some books, especially one that came up from the days of Jelly Roll Morton and Kid Ory and those guys.

Q: Do you teach any smaller classes?

Gerald Wilson: No, but I conducted the band for a couple of years out there.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the content of the class you teach.

Gerald Wilson: When my students come out, see, they know all about the history of jazz and they can talk to anybody on it just from being in my class. Now the beginning of jazz actually started during the days of slavery. That's when it started. It started there. Okay. Then the first recognized style of jazz of course is ragtime and I tell them all about ragtime. Ragtime was primarily a style only played at the piano. Ragtime had no improvisation. No matter when you heard it, you heard it the same way every time. Scott Joplin, who was the King of Ragtime, he was a very learned musician, also went to college. He was a college guy. He was very learned and he's the one that changed ragtime from being primarily a piano style. It was when he wrote his book called The Red Book and he wrote out what the trumpet would play, what the clarinet would play, what the piccolo would play, what the violin would play, what the bass would play, tuba or string bass, whatever, and the drums, those instruments. He wrote this book and you open this book and all of his big hit numbers are in that book. They're in that book and that's when it ceased to be just a piano style. Now it was a style played by bands.

The same thing with the different styles that came right after, about the same time when boogie-woogie came in. Boogie-woogie was a big style in jazz and boogie-woogie was primarily a piano style. The same thing happened in that. Right after that the jazz writers and arrangers, guys who could arrange, started writing boogie-woogie out with bands and that's when it ceased to be primarily a piano style and that was when you found out that you could play boogie-woogie anywhere. One young piano player by the name of Jack Fina, who played with Freddy Martin's orchestra, he made a boogie-woogie number on Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee and then they found out that boogie-woogie could be played anywhere. It's like the blues. The blues can be played in anything. It can be played in Stravinsky's Petrushka and his Rite of Spring. It can be played in the church as you know. Now you go into churches. Now you see them in there with guitars and basses and drum and they're playing the blues. The chord structures they use are the blues. So the blues can be played in anything, any kind of music. In my class I teach all of that. When my students get out of there they know about it.

Then we go up through swing. That's the days of Count Basie. Well, Count Basie, he's not the first. He's not the first because he was with a show from New York City that got stranded in Kansas City, Missouri. Swing came from Kansas City, Missouri, not New York, not Chicago. It came from Kansas City because Bennie Moten's band recorded a number in 1932 called "Moten's Swing." They coined the word "swing" and Count Basie, as I say, got stranded there from this show that came from New York and Bennie Moten hired Count Basie as his pianist. Now Bennie Moten was a piano player himself. He was the piano player but Count Basie was such a marvelous piano player that he became the lead piano player man in the band. So he was there and he was able to learn the swing from there and so that's the story. So we go through swing and then when we come back we started with Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker and those guys.

So they know all about them when we finish right up through now. See, we don't just stop there with the bebop. Finally, we've got from bebop into what they call free jazz and all of that. Then all of a sudden we're into Wynton Marsalis and all these young kids now that are playing jazz, so when they leave my class they know who all these people are because we have the recordings to play for them and we play music for everything we talk about.

RECORDING IN NEW YORK

Q: What are your present plans?

Gerald Wilson: I have a New York band now. I come to New York City to record. I'm on Mack Avenue Records and the reason that's done is because New York is still the place of jazz because all the jazz musicians came here. They all came here, those who were not born around here, but mostly all of the greatest jazz musicians you ever heard of came from some other place but you all come to New York. Coleman Hawkins didn't come from here. Charlie Parker didn't come from here. You got to come to New York.

I'm very busy right now. I'm writing on the 50th anniversary for the Monterey Jazz Festival. I wrote their 40th anniversary and their 20th anniversary so I'm working on their 50th number now. I'm writing a special piece. Now my theme for Monterey got me two Grammy nominations. So this number that I'm writing now, we'll present it this year at the Monterey festival and then I'll come to New York and I'll record it for Mack Avenue Records. It's a new composition so I'm writing it now and we have many pages on it already. My grandson and I are working like mad and we'll be ready.

Podcasts

Roy Haynes and Gerald Wilson

MUSIC CREDITS:

"Green Chimneys" from the album The Thelonious Monk Songbook performed by the Roy Haynes Trio. Produced by U-5, 2013.

"If I Should Lose You" from the album, Out of the Afternoon, performed by The Roy Haynes Quartet. Produced by Impulse! Records, 1996.

Variation on a Theme by Igor Stravinsky from the CD, Legacy, written and performed by Gerald Wilson. Produced by Mack Avenue Records, 2011.

"Yard Dog Mazurka" from the album, The Jimmie Lunceford Collection, performed by Jimmie Lunceford. Produced by Fabulous, 1947.

Jo Reed:  That's drummer and NEA Jazz master Roy Haynes playing Green Chimneys. And this is art works the weekly podcast produced by the National Endowment for the arts, I'm Josephine Reed.

We're kicking off the fourth of July weekend with a jazzy double feature...later on in the show, trumpter, composer and bandleader NEA Jazz Master Gerald Wilson

But , first.... Roy Haynes defines the word style in every sense: from his distinctive drumming to his snappy clothes--he is first among equals. Haynes is among the most recorded drummers in jazz, and in a career lasting more than 60 years, he has played in a wide range of styles ranging from swing and bebop to jazz fusion and avant-garde jazz. He's been equally successful as a leader and as a sideman--playing with the who's who in the jazz world. Artists like Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Danilo Perez, and Christian McBride to name only a few.

Haynes is a notoriously tough interview--not for the faint-hearted--but he's also very insightful about his music and had a surprising amount of patience when he sat down with me at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Here's an excerpt of our talk. 

Jo Reed:  You got your start with Luis Russell.

Roy Haynes:  Uh-huh.

Jo Reed:  How did that happen?

Roy Haynes: It happened by what I was doing, and the way I was doing what I was doing.  People talked about that, because Luis Russell didn't know anything about Roy Haynes until people told him. And then I was living in Boston at the time, I got a special delivery letter from New York from Luis Russell. He had never heard me, but he heard about me. And I guess it's probably the people that told him about me for him to stretch out and try to reach me, which is the way it happened.

Jo Reed:  One of the first gigs you played with him was at the Savoy.

Roy Haynes:  The first gig was at the Savoy.

Jo Reed:  It was the very first. What was that like?

Roy Haynes:  What was that like?  It was…

Jo Reed:  What was the Savoy like then?

Roy Haynes:  The Savoy, you can't hardly describe it in anything that you'll know about, you've got to have a great imagination because a lot of people would come to the Savoy Ballroom, and they probably wouldn't even dance, there's so much excitement going on. First of all, they had two bandstands. They usually have a big band on one bandstand, and a small band, a combo, on the next bandstand.  Back in probably the late '30s, early '40s they would have the battle of the bands.  So there were two bands, they'd be battling.  I used to hear a lot about it when I was young, in Boston.  Because I think certain nights they would broadcast anyhow, from the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem to different stations, so I had heard about it then. When I first played there with Luis Russell's band I don't think the bands were really battling then, because it'd be a big band on one side; twelve, thirteen, fourteen-piece and a small combo on the other side, the other part of the bandstand, which was like twin bandstands together. But that was really an exciting period, because not only the people came to dance, some people would just stand in front of the bandstand and listen. They call that the "home of the happy feet" because people will-- a lot of people could dance like they were professional in those days, '40s, was when I first come to New York with the band. My first job, like I was saying, was at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. So it was a very exciting period.

Jo Reed:  And as you said, Luis Russell of course had a big band.  

Roy Haynes:  Yeah, we had, I don't know twelve or thirteen-piece orchestra; three brass, maybe three trumpets, three trombones, three saxophones, three or four saxophones, and a guitar, and bass, and drums, and a great vocalist.

Jo Reed:  Who was the vocalist?

Roy Haynes:  Lee Richardson when I was with the band.  He made hit records.  One of his big records was "The Very Thought of You."  He has this voice, "The very thought of you, and I forget to do…," and all the young girls would be screaming. We'd play theaters like the Earle Theater in Philadelphia, and we'd do five shows a day during that period.

Jo Reed:  Five shows a day.

Roy Haynes:  Oh, yes.  And if they had a lot of people waiting in lines after each show, they would have to add another show to it.  So you got a chance to make extra money, then. The more shows you did, the more money you made.  And a lot of that wasn't always planned in advance.  Sometimes it would just happen when it would happen, the last minute.  People would be lined up to come in the theater waiting for people to leave so they could come in and catch the show.

Jo Reed:  How important do you think that experience was for you as a performer, especially backing a-- playing in a big band?

Roy Haynes:  Well, it was my first big band experience for one thing, which is something I wanted to do anyhow because I used to listen to a lot of the big bands like the Basie band when he had Papa Jo Jones playing drums.  And also when he left they had other younger drummers that I would go and catch with the band.  In fact, I did get a chance to play with that band a couple of times when I was much younger, also. But I was never a steady drummer with the band. I just filled in for a few nights.

Jo Reed: And Papa Jo Jones is one of the drummers that you listened to.

Roy Haynes:  Oh, definitely.  He was the main one. In fact, a lot of drummers my age during that time, in fact drummers of any age, usually were checking out Papa Jo Jones.

Jo Reed:  What was it about his sound?

Roy Haynes:  Not only his sound, his feeling, and the way he would do different things.  It's hard to explain, because I'm talking about early '40s. I'm just beginning to be a professional drummer, and I'm listening to certain things that other drummers didn't do, and the way he would do what he did. The feeling came from here, it wasn't nobody to just practice. This was a natural drummer, which is what they told me I was. I was just born a natural drummer, so I could sort of relate to Papa Jo.

Jo Reed:  You saw the birth of bebop. Did it grab you right away when you first heard it? Was it like an explosion in your mind when you first heard it?

Roy Haynes:  Well, I don't know if I would look at it as an explosion, but it was something new that was happening. The tunes, like the compositions, and the way the different artists were playing, certain artists, the things that they were doing musically, yeah, it was something new, so it did grab me, yeah. I jumped right on it, yeah.

Jo Reed:  And you played with Charlie Parker.

Roy Haynes:  Yes, Charlie Parker hired me, I forget what year it was, 1949 I'm thinking, yeah.  And I was with Lester Young during that period. And I know once there was a gig, a concert, in I think Baltimore, Maryland where there were two bands; Charlie Parker's band-- I was with Lester Young then.  And Charlie Parker was there with his band, and his drummer at that time was Max Roach. So Max Roach's drums were set up on the stand, on the bandstand.  And I said, "I'm going to sit my drums right beside his."  Max was very popular then. And I was a young guy-- younger guy, a couple of years younger than him, just beginning to get popular also. So I said, "Yes, I'm going to set my drums right up next to his," and I did, and not even realizing that I would end up playing with Charlie Parker.  I was with Lester Young then.  And that was a great time of my life with the music, and a great experience to be playing with Lester Young opposite Charlie Parker.

Jo Reed:  I would think it would be.

Roy Haynes:  Oh, yes.  That was a very exciting period.

Jo Reed:  I seem to remember people saying Lester Young spoke in a very particular language.  He was very funny, but you kind of had to understand where he was coming from to get what he was saying, is that-- did you find that to be the case?

Roy Haynes:  Yeah, that was very true.  Lester Young, he was one of the most, how can I describe him so people will understand, original people that I have ever met, not only in the way he dressed, the way he talked.  He would talk-- if he just met you, he would talk his language to you.  So some of the things you probably wouldn't understand what he was saying.  But that's the way he was.  He was a very original person all the way; the way he played, the way he dressed, and the way he talked.  And it was not just a put-on thing, that's the way this man was.

Jo Reed:  Were you sorry to leave that band and go with Charlie Parker in some ways?

Roy Haynes: I was happy because I wasn't just moving on to move on, I was going to be playing with Charlie Parker, one of the great persons. I went from Charlie Parker to Sarah Vaughan.  it was great playing with Charlie Parker.  He was a great genius.  Sarah Vaughan was a genius also. They did a recording together that also inspired me.  Charlie Parker was on a recording with Sarah Vaughan.  Sarah Vaughan, I mean, she could just-- she knew the music, too.  She knew the chords, the changes that she wanted the musicians, especially the keyboard player, to play for her. We have a lot of people that are great singers, but they don't always know the music or about what they're doing, they just do it naturally only, and they're gifted to do it that way.  But Sarah Vaughan, she could pick up the music and read the music as well, a new composition that she never heard before. One of the differences of just playing with somebody who can sing, and not a great musician, but Sarah Vaughan was a great musician as well.

Jo Reed:  You were with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot with a great live recording.  I think it was '50-- 

Roy Haynes:  Late '50s or '60s, Yeah.

Jo Reed: What was it like playing with Monk?

Roy Haynes:  It was great.  I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed every moment.  Little Monk wasn't just an ordinary artist.  He had a lot of feeling, a lot of imagination, and it was great.  It was great playing with him.  Only thing that was kind of strange, sometimes you had to wait hours before he would show up, so we wouldn't play until he arrived.  So sometimes the club would be crowded with people waiting for Monk to come.  But that was a long time ago.  That was in the late '50s.  That was yesterday.

Jo Reed:  That was yesterday. Jazz has a reputation, rightly or wrongly, of being not a young person's music anymore. I'm often in audiences, and I always look around to try to see how old people are in the audiences, and they tend to be older audiences.  And opening jazz up to younger people seems to me to be something that is a very significant thing to do, and that is something that you do. Your audiences, the demographics tend to be more skewed.  I'm not saying they're all young by any means, but they do tend to be more skewed.

Roy Haynes:  You're absolutely right.  That's something, huh.

Jo Reed:  I think so.

Roy Haynes:  It's something for me to think about, too.  Yeah.  I think about it.  Yeah, I really-- because sometimes I don't notice it right away.  I know I've heard people say years ago, I'm not talking about the last two years, but even before that, "You draw a really young audience."  Fifty years ago would say that about me, when I was much younger than I am.  So I guess that has to do with the music, or the feel of the recordings, or something they heard or read about my music or something.  I don't know.  I'm one of the ones that-- I don't analyze things.  I don't try to.  Some of the-- a lot of the things that happen I just keep on keeping on, and don't try to figure them out. That's what I do on the bandstand, too, a lot of times.  If I try to really figure out the music, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, I try to do it by what I feel rather than talk about it.  Even if I have somebody new in my band, I don't sit down and tell them what I expect them to do, what I would like them to do.  Usually they probably feel something, or heard from some way-- we don't talk about it much.  And it works.  It has been working.  So I'm going to leave it alone…

Jo Reed: That's drummer and NEA Jazz Master Roy Haynes. This is Art Works, I'm Josephine Reed. 

Gerald Wilson is a storyteller as well as a jazz legend-- and as a composer and bandleader for sixty years, he has quite a few tales up his sleeve.  Gerald Wilson's  use of multiple harmonies is a hallmark of his big bands.  His band was one of the greats in jazz, leaning heavily on the blues but integrating other styles as well. His arrangements influenced many musicians, including multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy who even dedicated a song to him. Wilson's career took off in 1939, when he  joined the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra where he honed his skills as a musician, composer and arranger. In addition to being a band leader and composer, Wilson has written arrangements for many other prominent artists including Duke EllingtonSarah Vaughan,  Dizzy GillespieElla FitzgeraldBenny Carter, and so many more. For many years he was a popular teacher at various California Universities, spending over twenty years at UCLA where he taught jazz history. Wilson's also a great admirer of classical composers--and his recent cd Legacy contained an homage to Igor Stravinsky. When i spoke with Gerald Wilson at Jazz at Lincoln Center, I asked him to tell me about Variations on a Theme by Igor Stravinsky.  

Gerald Wilson: For many years, I've been a classical admirer of classical music. My sister was a classical pianist. So I've heard a lot of classical music. And these are some of the special people that I like, like Igor Stravinsky. And I saw him in person, myself.

Jo Reed:  Really?

Gerald Wilson:  Yeah, amazing. I saw him at the Hollywood Bowl back in the '50s. And he was there with his son, Soulima, who was the featured pianist, as he conducted that night at the Bowl. And it left an impression on me. When you make a variation, you don't actually do the whole piece. For instance, the Stravinsky piece, I only use six notes out of the whole "Firebird" ballet.

Jo Reed:  Only six notes? And yet, you...

Gerald Wilson:  There are only six notes. But you use the six notes, which is the essence of the piece. And then, we change the form of it from what it was to a jazz piece, by changing the form. 

Jo Reed:  You have had one of the great careers in music. 

Gerald Wilson: My musical career started with my mother, who taught school in the little town we lived at, and it was called Shelby. And she was the music teacher. And she started me out, at the age of four, as she did my sister and my brother. My sister was a classical pianist only. And my brother, he also played the piano. He played some classic. But he can also play jazz. And he graduated from Tuskegee... 

Jo Reed: With Jimmie Lunceford?

Gerald Wilson:  Yes. This story starts from Chicago. I went to Chicago at the World's Fair in 1934.

Jo Reed:  Whoa.

Gerald Wilson:  And I was amazed by Chicago because having lived in the south all my life, in Chicago, when I got on the street car, I didn't have to go to the back of the street car. And I said, "Well, gee, this is nice. It's a good feeling." So when I got back home from the World's Fair, I told my mother, I said, "Mother, I wish you would send me to Chicago to go to school because I like what's going on in Chicago." So she said, "Well, listen, I don't think I can send you to Chicago." But she said, "I can send you to Detroit." So I said, "Well, as long as it's in the north." So then, she sent me to Detroit. Well, that morning when I went to school the first day in Detroit, it was not segregated school. It was all kinds of people in the school. And that was in all the schools in Detroit. There were no segregated schools in Detroit. All of those were open to black students, as well. There was no segregation in any of the schools or universities and colleges in Detroit, Michigan. So I said, "Well, now, this is really a wonderful place." Because it gives you another feeling, if you come from a place like Shelby, Mississippi. 

Jo Reed:  Early in your career you played with Jimmie Lunceford. Tell me about it. 

Gerald Wilson:  Jimmie Lunceford? First of all, Jimmy Lunceford was a fine musician. He played flute. He played the saxophone. He could play the guitar. And he could also write music. 

Jo Reed:  With Jimmie Lunceford you began composing, you began arranging. One of the songs you did for him was "Yard-dog Mazurka".

Gerald Wilson:  Yes. "Yard-dog Mazurka" was a number that I composed and arranged. What happened was-- fooling around with the piano one day, I had learned this chord progression that had never been used by any band in the world. And it starts right out from the beginning. But it happened just by chance. There was a young man by the name of Roger Segure, a young white fellow there that wrote music for Jimmie Lunceford. So I was over to his home in New York, right in New York, and he was writing music for the Lunceford Band at that time. And so I was at his home one evening. And I said, "Hey, Roger, listen to my introduction I'm making on 'Stompin' at the Savoy.'" And I played in terms of n the piano for him. And he said, "Gee, that's really a great chord progression you've got there." But he says, "You know what you ought to do, Gerald?" He said, "You should just repeat that eight bars and then, write yourself a bridge, which is another eight bars. And then, repeat the eighth." That's why they call it the AABA form. So I thought about it. And he told me, he said, "You should do that and then you'd have a composition of your own." So the next day when I saw Roger, I said, "Roger, that's a great idea you told me." And I said, "I'm going to give you half of the number." I did. I gave him half of that number. That's why you will see on it, "Gerald Wilson and Roger Segure." And that's the honest thing I did. 

Jo Reed:  Well, Gerald, after you left Jimmie Lunceford, you went to LA. Why LA? What was going on there in the music scene?

Gerald Wilson:  Well, you know, when I went to LA, actually the very first time with Jimmie Lunceford, we had just left Chicago. In the winter time, it's very bad; snow and ice and everything. So when I got to Los Angeles with The Jimmie Lunceford Band, I said, "Well, this is the place for me because I like the weather out here." So later on, I did. I moved to Los Angeles. And I've been living there for 60 years now. But I knew that Los Angeles would be big in television, which was not in, yet. There was no television at that time. And I said, "The movies are here. It's a good place to live to work in the movies and write music for movies and things like that. This is a good place to be." And that's what I did. And I was lucky, because I actually wrote for movies. I wrote for television. I was Redd Foxx's music director on the ABC variety show he had. And so it's turned out to be a nice thing for me living there. However, I consider New York as a home. I lived here. And I lived here when I was doing real good and I lived here when I was doing real bad.

Jo Reed:  New York is a lot more fun when you're doing good.

Gerald Wilson:  Yeah, but you find a way to exist in New York. I consider myself with seven homes in the United States. I lived here. I lived in Chicago. I lived in Memphis. I went three years of high school in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Jo Reed:  I was making notes when you talked about the cities you regarded as home. Memphis, Detroit, LA, Chicago, New York, of course Mississippi. We're talking about real jazz towns.

Gerald Wilson:  Yes. Well, you know, Mississippi, of course, I was right in the middle of jazz, you know. I remember when the bands would come through from New Orleans. My home is 250 miles from New Orleans. It's a direct line, straight line, from New Orleans to Chicago. When King Oliver left, he left in 1918. And he went to Chicago. And he went there and he taught the musicians there. And I'm talking about black musicians, now. He taught them because the black musicians who had been born there, they didn't know how to really play jazz. Because there were no recordings. There was no radio in the early days. So they didn't have anything to listen to, unless you had been to New Orleans. So I got a chance to see many of those guys coming up with the bands, the traveling, going to Chicago. 

Jo Reed:  Detroit is also a big music town, a big jazz town. 

Gerald Wilson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that would be on account of, like, Jean Goldkette. I don't know if you know who Jean Goldkette is?

Jo Reed:  No.

Gerald Wilson:  Jean Goldkette was a white band leader. Jean Goldkette owned the Graystone Ballroom. Okay. Blacks couldn't go to the Graystone Ballroom. But every Monday night was Black Night at the Graystone Ballroom. And every Monday night it was a band like Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Earl Hines, all of the big Black bands, Chick Webb and all of those people.

Jo Reed: And talk about a long time, you taught for over 40 years.

Gerald Wilson:  Yes. I got into jazz in the college. You know, I taught jazz at UCLA for 20 years-- 22 years. I taught the history of jazz. Because I knew the history and that's why I did it. And the kids liked my class. I had 480 students in my class. And they made us cap it at that. Because the first year I did, I had over 500 students and there would be some sitting in the aisles. So the fire department said, "You can't have that many, Gerald, because we can't have them sitting in the aisles." So they stopped it for that and we capped it at 480. And it was full every year. And you had to pay to be in that class. So it was a big thing for the school. So I stayed there all that time.

Jo Reed:  Gerald, what was it that you wanted to teach these students about jazz?

Gerald Wilson:  Well, you know, I'm so much in love myself with jazz that I knew from the time I was about four or five years old, because of my brother, that I was going to be a jazz musician. Because my brother, he could play jazz on the piano and he could play some classic. And he would talk to me when he would come home from school. He graduated from Tuskegee. So he's really the guy that really pushed me on into it. 

Jo Reed:  And let me ask you, finally. You said that Duke Ellington is your favorite musician. Tell me why.

Gerald Wilson:  First of all, let's tell you about Duke Ellington. Duke Ellington, as a pianist, he's one of the greatest pianists in the world of jazz. His style, they have never been able to copy him. The way he plays it and the way he brings in things, and he's a great composer as we all know. That's the thing about Duke Ellington. He's my favorite man. And I had met him. How did I meet him? While I was in school. A bunch of us kids that went to Cass Tech, whenever they'd come to play in Detroit at the Graystone Ballroom, we'd go up there and try to meet him. I went up and I said, "Mr. Ellington, I want to meet you. I love your music. And I'm so very happy to see you and hear you." And he was a nice man. He said, "Well, thank you, young man. Keep studying your music and doing things." I followed him in the Apollo Theater in New York City. And then, Duke called me in 1947 to orchestrate two of his compositions for him. And this would be a nice little story for you. I didn't hear from Duke Ellington again for nine years. Nine years. He called me up again at 6:00 in the morning. And said, "Gerald, I need some help." And I said, "Okay. Duke, what is it?" So he said, "I've got two numbers to orchestrate." I said, "Okay. What are they, Duke?" He said, "One is called 'Smile' that's written by Charlie Chaplin. The other one's called 'If I Give My Heart to You' It's another pop tune." So I said, "Duke, when do you need these numbers?" He said, "This afternoon, two o'clock, Capitol Records." So that morning he called, I just called my wife. She was visiting her mother in Glendale. I said, "Come on. We've got to get this record ready for Duke Ellington by two o'clock this afternoon." She came on over. She copied as I score each page, she's copying it. She's copying what I'm doing. And at two o'clock, we're there. And I said to myself, "They are two of the best orchestrations I ever made in my life." 

Jo Reed: That was NEA Jazz Master Gerald Wilson.  You've been listening to Art Works produced at the national Endowment for the Arts.  Next week, author Julie Otsuka, whose novel When the Emperor was Divine, is a current Big Read selection. To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.