Joe Wilder, admired for his trumpet tone, range, stylistic flexibility and for his elegance as a musician and person, is gone. Wilder died at the age of 92 last Friday in New York. Despite his modesty and disinclination to assert himself, his skill put him in demand by big band leaders including Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman, as well as a wide range of Broadway and television producers. Among the dozens of musicians with whom Wilder recorded were Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Evans, Tom Talbert, Charles Mingus, Tadd Dameron, Carmen McRae and Terence Blanchard.
Here is an impression of Wilder’s impact in performance from a review I wrote For Texas Monthly of the 1980 Midland, Texas, Jazz Classic, which was packed with New York musicians of the first rank. The full piece appears in Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers.
Joe Wilder, a trumpeter whose studio obligations have kept him off the street for twenty-five years, is famous among his peers for a tone so lustrous that he has been engaged to play as few as four bars because only his sound would fulfill the demands of the arrangement. But Wilder is also a first-class improviser. If his soloing can sometimes seem too controlled, too smooth, he can surprise you with explosive quotes like the snatches of “Moose The Mooche” woven into his solo on “Exactly Like You” and with his plunger work on “Cotton Tail,” in which he evoked Cootie Williams’s days of glory with Duke Ellington. Here is Wilder in 1956 with Hank Jones, piano; Wendell Marshall, bass; and Kenny Clarke, Drums.
Joe Wilder, RIP.