by Mark Saleski
Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke, Sarah Vaughan, Bobby Darin, Nancy Wilson, Ray Charles.
That’s the short list of artists that Gerald Wilson has been involved with during his long and storied musical life. A trumpeter, composer, and arranger, Wilson has just about done it all. Heck, he was the musical director for the Redd Foxx Show during the late 1970s. Now that’s what I call reach! The list expands considerably if you add the musicians associated with Wilson’s film work as well as his own big band — which he started in 1944.
Wilson has appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival ten times, going all the way back to 1963. He was commissioned by festival founder Jimmy Lyons to compose themes for Monterey’s 20th, 40th, and now 50th anniversary celebrations. At 2007′s record-breaking (a 3-day sellout) event, Wilson premiered “Monterey Moods.” Wilson attempts to illustrate what jazz and this festival are all about by taking a simple three-note passage and expanding and reinterpreting it through the many “moods” of jazz: from uptempo (“Allegro”) to Latin Swing to “hard swing” to blues and ballads. It’s a cohesive statement confirming Wilson’s love of both jazz in general and this event in particular.
There are way too many high points for a full enumeration here, but here are the ones that stick out in my mind: Hubert Laws’ fabulous flute solo that segues into son Anthony Wilson’s guitar solo during “Allegro”; Anthony’s killer guitar work on “Blues,” nearly outdone (hmmm, maybe it was) by Ron Blake’s tenor; Ronnie Cuber’s impassioned baritone solos on “Jazz Swing Waltz,” accented by the choruses traded by the flugelhorns of Terell Stafford and Jon Faddis.
Credit must be given to Wilson’s arranging skills, because this tremendous group of musicians always ends up sounding relaxed and ready to swing.
Though this record features the “Monterey Moods” suite, Wilson does include a bluesy take on Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate On You,” and his own “The Mini Waltz.” I almost wish that they’d been included at the start of the record so that the suite was allowed to blow the doors out at the end with “Hard Swing.” No matter, as this is a minor quibble and doesn’t detract from a fine body of music.
Monterey Moods is the kind of record that must be presented to the person who thinks that big band music is dead. With this album, Gerald Wilson’s lets his love of the music illustrate that the form is not ready for the museum. Not even close.