"To be chosen as a recipient of such a prestigious award that the behest of one's friends and peers, is extremely gratifying."
Joe Wilder has played with a virtual Who's Who of jazz -- Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Quincy Jones, John Lewis, Charles Mingus, George Russell, and Dinah Washington, to name just a few.
Wilder was born in 1922 into a musical family led by his father Curtis, a bassist and bandleader in Philadelphia. Wilder's first performances took place on the radio program Parisian Tailor's Colored Kiddies of the Air. He and the other young musicians were backed up by such illustrious bands as Duke Ellington's and Louis Armstrong's that were also then playing at the Lincoln Theater. Wilder studied at the Mastbaum School of Music in Philadelphia but turned to jazz when he felt that there was little future for an African-American classical musician. Wilder joined his first touring big band, Les Hite's band, in 1941.
Wilder was one of the first thousand African Americans to serve in the Marines during World War II. He worked first in Special Weapons and eventually became assistant bandmaster at the headquarters' band. Following the war during the 1940s and early '50s, he played in the orchestras of Jimmie Lunceford, Herbie Fields, Sam Donahue, Lucky Millinder, Noble Sissle, Dizzy Gillespie, and Count Basie, while also playing in the pit orchestras for Broadway musicals.
Wilder returned to school in the 1960s, earning a bachelor's degree at the Manhattan School of Music where he was also principal trumpet with the school's symphony orchestra under conductor Jonel Perlea. At that time, he performed on several occasions with the New York Philharmonic under Andre Kostolanitz and Pierre Boulez.
From 1957 to 1974, Wilder did studio work for ABC-TV while building his reputation as a soloist with his albums for Savoy and Columbia. He was also a regular sideman with such musicians as Gil Evans, Benny Goodman, and Hank Jones, even accompanying Goodman on his tour of Russia. He became a favorite with vocalists and played for Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Eileen Farrell, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Johnny Mathis, and many others.
He is the only surviving member of the Count Basie All-Star Orchestra that appeared in the classic 1959 film The Sound of Jazz.
Softly with Feeling, Savoy, 1956
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