Features Special Guests:
BILL CHARLAP - piano
RUSSELL MALONE - guitar
BUCKY PIZZARELLI - guitar
WARREN VACHE - trumpet
FRANK WESS - tenor sax and flute
with CHRIS NEVILLE - piano
STEVE LASPINA - bass
CHUCK REDD - drums
NEWS FLASH: "AMONG FRIENDS" selected for NY Times Online Album Showcase, 6/11/03: http://www.nytimes.com/audiopages/2003/06/10/arts/2003610_RATLIFF_WILDER_AUDIO.html
ABOUT THE CD
Joe Wilder turned eighty on February 22, 2002, an occasion marked by celebrations at the Arbors Records "March of Jazz" party in Clearwater, Florida, at the "Jazz in July" series at New York's 92nd Street Y, and at two tribute concerts: at the Smithsonian in March and at Lincoln Center in August. Best of all, Wilder himself performed at all these events in the same inimitable style that has been captivating audiences and fellow musicians since the late 1930s. For his third Evening Star release, we decided to continue the celebration in the studio by gathering some of Joe's favorite musicians to play with him in various combinations. The repertoire consists of pieces Joe likes to play but has never had the chance to record, including some of the finest examples of the American popular songbook.
Of the guest artists, Frank Wess and Joe have been friends since the early 1940s. Joe, who was with the Philadelphia-based Harlem Dictators at the time, recalls meeting Frank in Annapolis where the saxophonist was working with Jimmy Golden's band. Later, they were colleagues in Count Basie's orchestra. Joe has known Bucky Pizzarelli since the 1950s when both became stalwarts in the New York studios. Warren Vaché and Joe have a mutual admiration society going back two decades. They have conducted clinics and have played together at many jazz parties through the years. "Joe is my idol," Warren says. "When I grow up, I want to be just like Joe Wilder!"
Bill Charlap and Russell Malone are more recent but no less compatible associates who obviously share Joe's musical philosophy, especially where melody is concerned. The quintet and sextet tracks include pianist Chris Neville and bassist Steve LaSpina, distinctive soloists and sensitive accompanists who comprise two-thirds of Benny Carter's most recent regular rhythm section. They are joined by drummer Chuck Redd, a Wilder favorite and fellow member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.
The personnel on the final track evolved in a most unusual way. While Joe and Bucky Pizzarelli were running through Joe's line on "Lady Be Good," bassist Jerry Bruno and drummer Joe Cocuzzo walked into the studio for a later session with a singer. They couldn't resist joining in. Bucky then spied his friend Skitch Henderson, who had dropped by to visit. "You be Basie!" the guitarist called out, directing Skitch to the piano, and suddenly the duo had become a quintet and a truly impromptu jam had been captured in the studio.
One note on "Centerpiece": Harry "Sweets" Edison used this blues as a set-closer that culminated in a hilarious monologue enumerating his own not inconsiderable virtues. Sweets was close to everyone on this session, and this track is dedicated to his memory.
ABOUT JOE WILDER
Joe Wilder was born into a musical family in Philadelphia in 1922. His father, Curtis, was a prominent local bandleader and bassist, and an older brother also played bass. Initially drawn to classical music, the trumpeter studied at the Matbaum School of Music. Realizing that a classical career was not possible for a black musician coming of age in the late 1930s, Wilder set out on a veritable big band odyssey. During the 1940s and early 1950s, he brought his superb lead trumpet and sophisticated solo style to the orchestras of Les Hite, Lionel Hampton, Jimmie Lunceford, Herbie Fields, Sam Donahue, Lucky Millinder, Dizzy Gillespie, Noble Sissle, and Count Basie.
With the demise of the big bands, in the 1950s Wilder found a new career in the orchestras of such Broadway shows as Alive and Kicking, Guys and Dolls, and Silk Stockings. The trumpeter was also able to help break down the color barriers in the New York studios, where he served as a staff musician from 1953 to 1974. He eventually realized his early dream of playing classical trumpet as well. He earned a degree at the Manhattan School of Music, played on several occasions with the New York Philharmonic, and became principal trumpet of the Symphony of the New World.
Wilder continued to enhance his jazz reputation on albums with Hank Jones, Gil Evans, Benny Goodman, Tadd Dameron, and Benny Carter, among many others. He also became a favorite of such singers as Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Helen Humes, and Johnny Hartman, whose work was complemented by Wilder's sympathetic obligati.
Wilder continues to appear regularly at festivals and concerts worldwide and is a favorite on the jazz party circuit. For the past decade, Wilder has been the senior member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, which often places him in the singular position of performing historic big-band charts that he played when they were new.
...this set really grew on me as the tracks progressed though the CD player. First, Joe Wilder and his friends are masters...capable of making the best music under any circumstances. Second, this collection does what "light" jazz rarely accomplishes - it swings. Like the "old fashioned" way. Third, it's all acoustic. Every bar sounds natural, played by a human being with feelings and sympathies, instead of being laundered through transistors and silicone. ...the interplay between Wilder and Vache is like eavesdropping on two old friends who are so glad to be with one another that you are glad to just be there with them.
-- Russ Shor, VJM
Wilder proves he still has what it takes... Enjoy this one and celebrate a fine brass man playing good music with an excellent cast... Very enjoyable...
-- Geoff Burdett, Crescendo and Jazz Music