Joe Wilder, trumpeter and NEA jazz master, dies at 92

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Joe Wilder
Joe Wilder, a trumpeter of understated lyricism and breathtaking range, who toured with some of the biggest names in jazz, helped integrate Broadway pit orchestras and enjoyed a late-career renaissance as a rediscovered master, died May 9 at a rehabilitation facility in New York City. He was 92.

He had congestive heart failure, said a daughter, Elin Wilder-Melcher.

Mr. Wilder performed with such jazz giants as Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie, but he seemed to spend much of his career standing just outside the spotlight.

“Of all the living legends of jazz certified by the National Endowment for the Arts,” critic Will Friedwald wrote when Mr. Wilder was named a 2008 NEA jazz master, “Joe Wilder is at once among the least known to the general public . . . and the most prized by musicians, especially his fellow trumpeters.”

Although he recorded only a handful of albums as a leader, Mr. Wilder appeared on hundreds of others as a sideman and was known for his versatility, sensitivity and musical elegance.

He performed classical music, was among the first African Americans to play in Broadway pit orchestras and was a member of the ABC network’s musical staff for 17 years, including a long stint in the house band for Dick Cavett’s late-night talk show.

But he was at his best as a stylish master of mid-century swing and big-band jazz. He toured the segregated South with bandleader Lionel Hampton before World War II and, in the early 1960s, visited the Soviet Union with Benny Goodman’s group on a trip sponsored by the State Department. In February, days before his 92nd birthday, Mr. Wilder was honored at New York’s Lincoln Center.


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