Gerald Wilson, the dynamic jazz musician whose career spanned more than 75 years, has died. He was 96.
Wilson’s son, Anthony Wilson, said his father died Monday at his Los Angeles home from pneumonia.
The big band leader began his career in the 1930s as a trumpeter for Jimmy Lunceford’s band before forming his own group in 1944. He played and composed music with the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, and he arranged music for Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan and Bobby Darin.
Wilson, who was born in Shelby, Mississippi, bought his first trumpet at age 11. During his tenure with Lunceford, he arranged the hit tunes “Hi Spook” and “Yard Dog Mazurka.”
After four years with Lunceford and a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Wilson settled in Los Angeles in the 1940s. His adventurous big-band approach endured throughout decades of the genre’s evolution.
With his long white hair in later years, Wilson became famous for his dance-like style of conducting, which he said helped listeners know what they were hearing.
“I choreograph the music when I conduct,” he told the Jazz Times in 2011. “Accent everything – all the high points.”
Wilson, a constant presence at events such as the Monterey Jazz Festival, received six Grammy nominations throughout his career, including nods in 1999 and 2004 for best large jazz ensemble for “Theme For Monterey” and “New York, New Sound.”
He later taught jazz at California State University, Northridge; California State University, Los Angeles; and University of California, Los Angeles.
He is survived by his wife, son, two daughters and four grandchildren.