The liner notes for State Street Sweet include these comments: “A Quiet Legend: Two years ago at the Monterey Jazz Festival, I was engaged in conversation with several colleagues. We were celebrating life, exchanging ideas, and reflecting on how lucky we were to be in a beautiful environment, communing with some of the giants of the jazz world.
“In mid-sentence, from across the room, I caught a glimpse of an unmistakable profile. There stood Gerald Wilson, confident, with the radiant air of a master craftsman who holds a great secret. I hadn't seen Gerald since Verona Jazz '86, but his broad smile and charismatic eyes signaled that, at 74, he continued to drink from the fountain of youth. While photographers clamored around lesser-credentialed “young lions,” Wilson stood in meditative concentration – a noble, dignified grand master of the art of jazz.
“'Hey, there's my man, Gerald Wilson!' I exclaimed, but the look on my colleagues' faces brought me to the sobering realization that they were unfamiliar with this great talent. Surprisingly, while he is heralded by many as a seasoned orchestrator, educator, and pillar of strength in the jazz community, there are still those who are unfamiliar with the genius of Gerald Wilson.
“I quickly educated my friends. After all, for the past fifty-one years Gerald has led one of the most dynamic, talent-laden big bands in the country. A chair in the Wilson Orchestra is a badge of honor in the jazz world. In fact, a list of the musicians who have passed through the band – including Teddy Edwards, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Pass, Harold Land, Oscar Brashear, Ernie Watts, Jack Wilson, Anthony Ortega, Jerome Richardson, Garnet Brown, Buddy Collette, Bobby Bryant, Paul Humphrey, Roy Ayers, George Duke, and more – reads like a Who's Who of major league improvisers.
“And Wilson stands as one of the great compositional innovators of our time. Trumpeter Mike Price once told me, 'Gerald is interested in creating new aspects of compositional form, rather than the stylized arrangements of older song form. Instead of a standard eight-bar bridge, he works at creating new relationships. The relationship from section to section and composition to composition is always subject to change; thus the listener and the players are always a little bit 'on the edge,' because something new and surprising is always just around the corner!'
“A true orchestrator, Wilson writes in a complex tonal fashion that embodies all of the raw energy, powerful force, and subtle finesse of its maker. Unlike many composers, Gerald doesn't limit himself to four and five note chords. Instead, he employs up to eight-note polytonality to create his rich harmonizations. Yet the most pervasive element in Wilson's music is its intense energy. It is that energy, coupled with his brilliant use of dynamics, and his complex, variegated compositional patterns that together produce his unmistakable sound.
“Interestingly, Wilson has never relied on outside composers or arrangers.1 Gerald breathes through his music, and his compositions, life experience, and orchestra are all inexorably linked. Like Duke Ellington before him, he has his finger on the pulse of the African-American community. His music, rooted in passion and directly tied to the people, has always been relevant to the 'vibe' on the street. Accordingly, it has been embraced by artists as diverse as El Chicano, who scored a major pop hit with Wilson's 'Viva Tirado' in 1970, and Kid Frost, who more recently unveiled a rap version of this same Wilson classic.
“For Wilson, this collection represents a homecoming in many ways. Aside from reworking many of his classic compositions, he chose to record the session at the famed Capitol Studios, where years ago he had worked with Bobby Darin, Nancy Wilson, and many other talents. Gerald recalls that his band was among the first to record at this subterranean state-of-the-art facility way back in the '50s. 'The studio has always modernized with the continuing advent of new technology,' he ntoes, 'but it still brings back a lot of fond memories.
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“The final selection, Nancy Jo, looks back to 19632 and the release of the classic 'Moment of Truth' album. Originally composed in 1957 for one of Wilson's three daughters, it harkens back to his seminal work with Lunceford and his compositions for the Basie band. Judging from the energy generated by this burner, Nancy Jo must have been a spunky, adventurous child. (Gerald assures me that she still is!) It features solos by Brian O'Rourke on piano, Tony Lujan on trumpet, Randall Willis on alto sax and Anthony Wilson3 on guitar.”
1Note the similarity to Duke Ellington and Benny Carter in this regard.
3Gerald Wilson's son.