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Joe Wilder

Joe Wilder – Cherokee

800px-John_Webber,_Joe_Wilder_and_Lewis_NashLeft to right: John Webber, Joe Wilder and Lewis Nash

Joseph Benjamin Wilder (February 22, 1922 – May 9, 2014) was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. Wilder was awarded the Temple University Jazz Master’s Hall of Fame Award in 2006. The National Endowment for the Arts honored him with its highest honor in jazz, the NEA Jazz Masters Award for 2008.


Wilder was born into a musical family led by his father Curtis, a bassist and bandleader in Philadelphia. Wilder’s first performances took place on the radio program, “Parisian Tailor’s Colored Kiddies of the Air.” He and the other young musicians were backed up by such illustrious bands as Duke Ellington’s and Louis Armstrong’s that were also then playing at the Lincoln Theater. Wilder studied at the Mastbaum School of Music in Philadelphia, but turned to jazz when he felt that there was little future for an African-American classical musician. At the age of 19, Wilder joined his first touring big band, Les Hite’s band.

Wilder was one of the first thousand African Americans to serve in the Marines during World War II. He worked first in Special Weapons and eventually became Assistant Bandmaster at the headquarters’ band. Following the war during the 1940s and early 1950s, he played in the orchestras of Jimmie Lunceford, Herbie Fields, Sam Donahue, Lucky Millinder, Noble Sissle, Dizzy Gillespie, and finally with the Count Basie Orchestra. From 1957 to 1974, Wilder did studio work for ABC-TV, New York, and in the pit orchestras for Broadway musicals, while building his reputation as a soloist with his albums for Savoy (1956) and Columbia (1959). His Jazz from Peter Gunn (1959), features ten songs from Henry Mancini (“Peter Gunn”) television score in melodic and swinging fashion with a quartet. He was also a regular sideman with such musicians as NEA Jazz Masters Hank Jones, Gil Evans, and Benny Goodman. He became a favorite with vocalists and played for Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Johnny Mathis, Harry Belafonte, Eileen Farrell, Tony Bennett, and many others. Wilder earned a bachelor of music degree in 1953, studying classical trumpet at the Manhattan School of Music with Joseph Alessi, where he was also principal trumpet with the school’s symphony orchestra under conductor Jonel Perlea. In the 1960s, he performed on several occasions with the New York Philharmonic under Andre Kostelanetz and Pierre Boulez and played lead for the Symphony Of The New World from 1965 to 1971.

He appeared on The Cosby Show episode “Play It Again, Russell” (1986), and played the trumpet in the Malcolm X Orchestra in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” (1992). Since 1991 he returned as a leader and recorded three albums for Evening Star. He died on May 9, 2014, in New York City, of congestive heart failure.

Discography – As Leader

es106Year Title Genre Label

1956 Wilder N’ Wilder Jazz Savoy
1956 Softly With Feeling Jazz Savoy
1959 The Pretty Sound of Joe Wilder Jazz Columbia
1959 Jazz from “Peter Gunn” Jazz Columbia
1991 Alone With Just My Dreams Jazz Evening Star
1993 No Greater Love Jazz Evening Star
2003 Among Friends Jazz Evening Star As sideman
With Trigger Alpert

Trigger Happy! (Riverside, 1956)
With Gil Evans

Into the Hot (Impulse!, 1961)
With Dizzy Gillespie

Gillespiana (Verve, 1960)
With Tadd Dameron

The Magic Touch (1962)
With Etta Jones

From the Heart (Prestige, 1962)
With Yusef Lateef

10 Years Hence (Atlantic, 1974)
The Doctor is In… and Out (Atlantic, 1976)
With Mundell Lowe

New Music of Alec Wilder (Riverside, 1956)
With Oliver Nelson

The Spirit of ’67 with Pee Wee Russell (Impulse!, 1967)
With Houston Person

Broken Windows, Empty Hallways (Prestige, 1972)
With Shirley Scott

Great Scott!! (Impulse!, 1964)
With Sonny Stitt

What’s New!!! (Roulette, 1966)
With others

Joe Newman: Hangin´ Out (Concord, 1984)

Benny Carter: A Gentleman and His Music (Concord, 1985)

Ruby Braff: Being With You (Arbirs, 1996)

Charlie Byrd: For Louis’ (Concord, 1996)

Jay Jay Johnson: The Brass Orchestra (Verve, 1996)

The Heath Brothers: Jazz Family (Concord, 1998)

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