Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gerald Wilson's Nancy Jo: Liner Notes (from Fresh Sound Records re-issue)

The liner notes from Fresh Sound Records' re-release of You Better Believe It! & Moment Of Truth read: “Composer, arranger and trumpeter Gerald Wilson has recorded big band albums of extraordinarily consistent brilliance throughout his remarkable and enormously long career. And those he made in the 1960s represent one of several peaks. On both You Better Believe It! And its worthy follow-up Moment of Truth, Wilson's writing is personal and uncluttered; he resists the temptation to deploy all his forces at once, building logically to climactic tutti passages, dealing mostly with blues and groovy originals. The orchestra, made up of top West Coast men, generates a strong drive, plays cleanly and precisely, and was blessed with fine soloists. Holmes is impressive with a big band shouting behind and around him. Carmell Jones, who is also heavily featured, shows he was a thinking young musician. But as good as them were Teddy Edwards, Walter Benton, Harold Land, Joe Maini, Jack Wilson, and guitarist Joe Pass, who plays stunningly in every one of his featured segments. Amid this wealth of jazz talent, though, Wilson's writing, particularly on Moment of Truth, remains the star of the show, with a harmonic sophistication that is never exercised at the expense of jazz virtues like groove, drive and swing.

“Gerald Wilson was born in Shelby on September 4, 1918, but spent little time there after reaching school age. His parents sent him to Memphis during the primary grade stage and later he was put on a train for Detroit where he attended Cass Technical High School and had musicians like tenor-man Sam Donahue and trombonist Bobby Byrne for classmates.

“Item: In 1939, at the age of 21, he replaced Sy Oliver with the Lunceford band, remaining until 1942. In 1944, he formed his own big band and for a time enjoyed heady success playing locations such as New York's Apollo Theater and the El Grotto in Chicago, the later for $3,900 a week. Contracted by Louis Jordan to play 13 weeks in a top theater circuit, he disbanded 'with a drawer full of signed contracts.'

“Why, with things going well and prospects getting better, did Wilson decide to quit? The answer was characteristic of the man.

“'I had to stop and study,' he explained reflectively in 1962 'And it was the best thing I ever did. If I had not, I wouldn't be where I am today.'”

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