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JOE WILDER : TRUE GENTLEMAN OF JAZZ DIES AT 92

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“I feel as though I’ve lost a close friend, or even a relative,” one musician close to  him and me said of trumpeter/flugelhornist JOE WILDER, who passed in Manhattan at age 92.  And we did.

Joe and I had become friends over the years.  His first greeting to me was never about me or himself but always about my vocalist wife, whom he liked.  “How’s the Mrs.?” he would ask goodnaturedly.

We were last together at the Frank Wess memorial at St. Peter’s.  (See a former blog post.)  Joe dressed as usual in shirt and tie –although he later sat with the Basie Band– was there as an observer and was mobbed by well-wishers, a very heartwarming scene.  There was a 92nd All Star Birthday Salute at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Jazz @ Lincoln Center.  It would be his last harrah.

An insightful full-fledged bio [Softly, With Feeling: Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music-Temple University Press] has been penned by his friend Edward Berger.  Berger, a photographer as well, captured every nuance of this warm always jovial great man.  Wilder, a photographer himself, was rarely seen without some kind of camera dangling from his neck be it small or large.  Before the digital age it was always a couple of 35mm SLR’s, one for color film the other black and white.  He was always available for a lesson on how to take pictures of working musicians.

As a first call session player Wilder was among the first Black musicians to play those sessions as well as Broadway pit bands and major orchestras.  His perfect tone and easy going manner didn’t hurt.

He is on many recordings but rarely as a leader.  Berger’s label, named for his friend Benny Carter’s “Evening Star,” among them.

A full accounting in an interview of the life of Joe Wilder in addition to Berger’s fine and complete biography may be found on the blog http://jazz.com/The OctoJAZZarians/Joe Wilder.  I was the proud interviewer.

© arnold jay smith May 2014


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