On the occasion of the announcement of the 2015 class of NEA Jazz Masters—the nation’s highest honor for jazz artists—let’s take note of three recently departed NEA jazz masters: trumpeter Joe Wilder, singer Jimmy Scott and pianist-composer Horace Silver.
Each of these soft-spoken, graceful men was a musical stylist of originality.
Wilder carved a path for musicians such as Wynton Marsalis by way of his training in European classical music and the development of his own lyrical jazz voice. Scott’s singular vocal style transformed pain into plaintive poignancy, eliciting tears in fans from Quincy Jones to Madonna. Silver, a highly influential bandleader, pianist, arranger and composer, integrated the blues, jazz, gospel, R&B and Latin sounds of his predecessors and contemporaries into a fine art of his own creation.
Joe Wilder: Feb. 22, 1922-May 9, 2014
Joe Wilder was a cheerful man of abiding dignity whose core of strength was grounded in his cultural values. He avoided the bad habits that ruined the lives and careers of many of his jazz peers. Wilder was such a gentleman, in fact, that he declined offers of money from his bandmates to use profane language.
Raised in Philly in a musical family, Wilder initially aspired to a concert career as a classical trumpeter. Such an objective for a black man in the 1930s, however, wasn’t feasible. He soon began playing in notable big bands (Lionel Hampton, Jimmie Lunceford) as lead trumpeter.
Wilder was among the first thousand blacks to join the Marines during World War II, after which he continued his big band work with Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie. (Check out his 30-second solo from the famous “Sound of Jazz” session with Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins and other legends in 1957.) Adept at reading music and performing any style of music put before him, Wilder integrated Broadway-show pit orchestras and served as an ABC studio session player from 1957 to 1974.
Wilder recorded a handful of albums as a leader, including one of European classical compositions. This clip demonstrates his lyrical approach on Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” and serves as a video tribute. Deemed an NEA Jazz Master in 2008, Wilder loved sharing his experiences and insights with young people. A devoted family man and father of four, he will be remembered as a consummate gentleman of jazz.
Jimmy Scott: July 17, 1925-June 12, 2014