Joe Wilder, a trumpeter with a polished, punctuating sound whose ferocious recording schedule starting in 1942 with big bands, R&B groups and small jazz ensembles left him little time to record as a leader, died May 9. He was 92.
Known to insiders as Junior," Joe was such a clean and distinct player that he often sounded like a well-dressed pool shark cleaning the table. Like the shark who rids the table of balls with firm control and forceful strokes, Joe's solos were perfectly phrased and his brief pauses made it seem he was chalking up his horn while sizing up the next series of notes.
I interviewed Joe several times over the years, most notably for my book, Why Jazz Happened. On the subject of Dizzy Gillespie and bebop, Joe had some great insights:
We didn't call it bebop then [in 1942], of course. It was just a new way of playing, and Dizzy had already recorded some of those things months earlier in Cab Calloway's band. Instead of playing the chords that were written, Dizzy was into flatted fifth and ninths, and harmonic playing. What was fascinating was that Dizzy could be both precise and loose. Between songs, Dizzy would start telling me jokes and cracking me up. Then Les [Hite] would give a downbeat and I couldn't stop laughing. Les would say, 'Hey Junior—that was my nickname—you had better play and stop fooling around back there.' Dizzy, of course, would have an innocent expression on his face, as if he had no clue why I was laughing. He wasn't trying to throw me. Dizzy wasn't competitive like that. He was happy to show me things all the time on the trumpet and he also had solos on songs, just like I did. Dizzy's humor kept him relaxed, and his style in Les's band was very different."
Joe was always upbeat, friendly and eager for a chat. He was a gentleman from another era, and I'm sure that attribute rubbed off on everyone he met and made them better for it. To celebrate Joe, here are 15 recordings from the 1950s that show off his enormous diversity and soul...