The amazing Gerald Wilson’s career spans more of jazz history than any other living composer/leader in the biz. He formed his LA band in l944 and also maintains an East Coast band for traveling and recording. He’s played trumpet and composed and arranged for all the major black orchestras: Lunceford, Benny Carter, Ellington, Basie and Gillespie. He’s the last of his era’s great big band leaders. Like Benny Carter, he’s never really received the attention he deserved for his major place in jazz; perhaps he’s getting it now. Last year he won the Jazz Journalists Award as the “Best Large Jazz Ensemble.” I’ll do my bit by running this great portrait of Gerald!
Gerald Wilson and the Monterey Jazz Festival had a long history together. I recall his first appearance at the Festival in 1963 – how everybody really dug the band, and I have fond memories of walking around the fairgrounds digging the various booths, the wild clothing styles, and the freeform dancing here and there, all to the strains of Gerald’s Blues for Yna Yna (his Siamese cat). He returned in 1976 with a commissioned piece especially for the Festival, and the first seven tracks of this 9-track CD is his latest work commissioned by the Festival for performance this month for its Golden Anniversary – The Monterey Moods Suite.
It’s his third CD for Mack Avenue, following on this long discography of recordings for World Pacific/Pacific Jazz, Liberty, Discovery/Trend and MAMA. Plus his brilliant reissue package from Mosaic: The Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson and His Orchestra. Wilson used his NYC all-star band, and some of major stars in it include: Jon Faddis, Antonia Hart, Anthony Wilson, and Hubert Laws. Laws observed: “Gerald Wilson’s longevity with his creativity alone gives testimony to this value as an international treasure.”
Wilson chose a title for the work beginning with the word Monterey, to be represented musically with a three note diatonic theme. He based the suite on the words “Monterey, Monterey, love is here, here in Monterey.” The same three-note theme is used in all seven movements of the suite, in different ways, giving it a special unity similar to Franck’s cyclical approach. Also partial to jazz waltzes, I especially dug the nine-minute Jazz Swing Waltz movement; Blues was another gem. The Hubert Laws flute solos are a nice touch, especially on the final track, The Mini Waltz. There’s something about Wilson’s harmonizations and instrumentation that is not avant or weird but just a bit different from the norm – adding a relaxed and fresh feeling to everything he arranges or composes. He obviously still has it in spades at 89 year old!
TrackList: Monterey Moods Suite: Allegro, Jazz Swing Waltz, Ballad, Latin Swing, Blues, Bass Solo, Hard Swing; I Concentrate On You; The Mini Waltz.
– John Henry