Gerald Wilson – 1997 Monterey Jazz Festival Artist-in-Residence

Gerald Wilson MJF40_1997_(c)Peter Jordan.jpg

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Educator, Arranger, Conductor, Composer

Quick Facts:

  • Arranged and composed and/or conducted for: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Jimmie Lunceford, and many others.


  • Leadership style was based on mutual respect and magnetism, not strictness.


  • Gerald’s mother, Lillian, was of African, Italian and Native American descent.  She played classical piano at home, and gospel music in her church.


  • 1st important music and trumpet teacher was Professor Love at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee.  Dee Dee Bridgewater attended the same school many years later.


  • He was an exceptional trumpet player, and could hit a high G.




  • Incorporated a broad range of music in bis compositions, arrangements and performances, including Mexican and Classical music.


  • In 1946 left a very successful career to return to Los Angeles and resume his music studies. He studied with Phil Moore – who was arranging for Lunceford, Lena Horne and MGM. at the time. They also worked out of  Phil Moore’s apartment in New York, which was above Carnegie Hall.  For part of this period he worked as  a grocer.


  • Classical composers who strongly influenced Gerald Wilson:
    • Stravinsky, Khachaturian, Falla, Ravel, Debussy, Bartok, Kabalevsky, Rodrigo, Beethoven, Gliere, and Villa Lobos


  • Gerald Wilson performed at many Monterey Jazz Festivals, and he would often attend in the years he wasn’t scheduled to perform to enjoy the shows and work with the young musicians.


  • Years at the Monterey Jazz Festival:  1960 (with Duke Ellington), 1963, 1976, 1977 (Commission Artist),  1982, 1985,  1987, 1990, 1997 (Artist-in-Residence and Commission Artist), 2005 (The Gerald Wilson Award is established that is awarded to an outstanding student composer in connection with the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra), 2007 (Commission Artist), 2008 (named Monterey Jazz Festival “Jazz Legend”,  2012


  • Born in 1918, died in 2014

From the Monterey Jazz Festival Website

“In a career that spans eight decades, the eighty-nine year old Gerald Wilson has won the DownBeat International Critics Poll both as a composer/arranger and for his big band, the Paul Robeson Award, the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship, and a pair of American Jazz Awards. He has also been elected to the Mississippi Jazz Hall of Fame, has had his life’s work archived by the Library of Congress, and has earned six GRAMMY nominations. It was in 1963 that MJF Founder Jimmy Lyons first brought Gerald Wilson and his Orchestra to Monterey, and he has since become a MJF favorite over the years, on the stage or off. He has performed at Monterey nine times, and has created landmark compositions to celebrate the Festival’s 20th Anniversary (1977), the 40th Anniversary (1997), and the 50th Anniversary (2007).” [MJF Website]

Wilson was born in Shelby, Mississippi,[1] and at the age of 16 moved to Detroit, where he graduated from Cass Technical High School.

Gerald Wilson is one of the great arrangers of the last 100 years – and in a number of genres.  Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Bille Holiday, Ella Fitzferald and Ray Charles are among his many credits.

Gerald Wilson also attended almost all of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s even in the years he was not performing. He loved working with the Next Generation Orchestra and the students.  Every year he was at MJF, he was constantly mentoring, conducting and teaching the students.

“The National Endowment for the Arts named Wilson an NEA Jazz Master in 1990. In 1998 Wilson received a commission from the Monterey Jazz Festival for an original composition, resulting in “Theme for Monterey”, which was performed at that year’s festival. In later years, he formed orchestras on the West and East coasts, each with local outstanding musicians. He also made special appearances as guest conductor, including with the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band (now the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra of New York), the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and European radio jazz orchestras, conducting the BBC Big Band in 2005.[3] He hosted an innovative show, in the 1970s, on KBCA in Los Angeles, which was co-hosted by Dennis Smith, where he played ” . . . music of the past, the present, and the future.”

Wilson was a member of the faculty at California State University, Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles, for many years recently winning a “teacher of the year” award. In the 1970s he also served on the faculty at California State University, Northridge, where he taught Jazz History to wide acclaim among the student body,[3] and has also taught at Cal Arts in Los Angeles.”


– Monterey Jazz Festival,  by Tim Orr

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