was busy in 1962. Wilkins, of course, was always busy, but '62 was a crescendo year for the big-band arranger. He worked largely for the Verve and Riverside labels that year, writing charts for Harry James, Mark Murphy, Illinois Jacquet, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Cannonball Adderley, Count Basie and Sam Jones. Then the bubble burst toward the end of '62. His drug problem spiraled out of control and sent him into rehab until 1969, when he began working again, with Clark Terry.
As his brother Jimmy Wilkins told me, Ernie had to get his stuff taken care of—he was so overworked, day and night, trying to please everyone. The pressure was too much. Fortunately he cleaned himself up."
Perhaps Wilkins' finest album of '62 was Ray Brown With the All-Star Band
for Verve, recorded in January of that year. It featured quite a stellar lineup: Nat Adderley (cnt); Ernie Royal, Joe Newman, Clark Terry (tp); Jimmy Cleveland, Melba Liston, Britt Woodman, Paul Faulise (tb); Cannonball Adderley, Earl Warren (as); Budd Johnson, Seldon Powell (ts); Yusef Lateef (ts,fl); Jerome Richardson (bar,fl); Hank Jones (p); Ray Brown (bass/cello); Sam Jones (b) and Osie Johnson (d).
Brown even plays cello on several tracks (My One and Only Love, Two for the Blues
and Baubles, Bangles and Beads
). The cello gave Brown a higher solo voice and provided the listener with a chance to hear him distinctly and marvel at his remarkable technique. Meanwhile, Cannonball Adderley handled the reed solos.
Throughout the album, Wilkins' charts are first rate. Dig Day In, Day Out, Baubles Bangles and Beads
and It Happened in Monterey
. The beauty of Wilkins is that he gave each section of the band a different personality but held them together with an intelligent core. The trumpets had enormous power but on top sounded like the tinkling of a crystal chandelier. The trombones were for punctuation, body and color. And the reeds sounded like the engine of a new large luxury car. He often added a flute or two for chrome effect—a little something extra in the shine department to lighten the bottom.
Ernie Wilkins was one of the finest big band arrangers in the LP era whose dedication to giving orchestras his very best left him little time to raise his profile. Ultimately, he was a musician's arranger and wouldn't have thought of having other arrangers ghost his assignments. Unfortunately, in the LP era of the 1950s and '60s, that was the only way to earn a solid living without burning out. But what you hear on every one of Wilkins arrangements for this album is a tiger giving you everything he has. Wilkins died in 1999.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find this album as Busting Out: Ray Brown and the All Stars
teamed with the album Wilkins arranged for Oscar Peterson and a big band in '62. Go here
JazzWax clips: Here's
Ernie Wilkins' arrangement of It Happened in Monterey
with Cannonball Adderley on alto saxophone. Dig how the sections interact and how Brown, Richardson on baritone sax and Faulise on bass trombone anchor the bottom...
And here's Day In, Day Out
. Dig Brown's driving bass framed by a swinging band arrangement...