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Gerald Wilson dies at 96; multifaceted jazz musician

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Gerald Wilson, a bandleader, trumpeter, composer, arranger and educator whose multifaceted career reached from the swing era of the 1930s to the diverse jazz sounds of the 21st century, has died. He was 96.

Wilson, who had been in declining health, died Monday at his home in Los Angeles, two weeks after contracting pneumonia, said his son, jazz guitarist Anthony Wilson.

In a lifetime that spanned a substantial portion of the history of jazz, Wilson's combination of articulate composition skills with a far-reaching creative vision carried him successfully through each of the music's successive new evolutions.

He led his own Gerald Wilson Orchestras—initially for a few years in the mid-1940s, then intermittently in every succeeding decade—recording with stellar assemblages of players, continuing to perform live, well after big jazz bands had been largely eclipsed by small jazz groups and the ascendancy of rock music.

Seeing and hearing Wilson lead his ensembles — especially in his later years — was a memorable experience for jazz fans. Garbed in well tailored suits, his long white hair flowing, Wilson shaped the music with dynamic movements and the elegant grace of a modern dancer.

Asked about his unique style of conducting by Terry Gross on the NPR show “Fresh Air" in 2006, he replied: It's “different from any style you've ever seen before. I move. I choreograph the music as I conduct. You see, I point it out, everything you're to listen to."

That approach to conducting, combined with the dynamic quality of his music, had a significant impact on the players in his ensembles.

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