Wilson Served as a 'Primary Source' for UCLA Students

Published: September 9, 2014
By: Donna Armstrong

The department mourns the passing of former UCLA adjunct assistant professor Gerald Wilson, who died on Monday, September 8, 2014, at his home in Los Angeles, at the age of ninety-six.  Wilson taught in both the ethnomusicology and music departments; he taught a jazz history course “The Development of Jazz” from 1992 to 2008 (first taught by Paul Tanner in 1958 and later by Warren Pinckney) and directed a jazz big band from 1996 to 2004. In 2006 Wilson was awarded the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award for Non-Academic Senate Faculty.

Wilson’s jazz history classes were packed with students who wanted to hear from a "primary source" about his experiences working with luminaries such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, and many more. Jazz students who played in the big band under Wilson's baton also benefited greatly from his mentoring. Some of those students are now making names for themselves as professional musicians, and a few, including Isaac Smith (trombone) and Kamasi Washington (saxophone), were hired by Wilson to play in The Gerald Wilson Orchestra.

Kenny Burrell, Director of Jazz Studies at UCLA, gives these comments about Gerald Wilson:

"We have lost one of the true giants of American and twentieth-century music, Gerald Wilson. Gerald was one of the most respected jazz artists in the history of jazz. Like Duke Ellington, his music went far beyond the common practice used in jazz and popular music. He successfully created compositions for many different ensembles, going from combos to big bands to symphony orchestras, and using a variety of extended forms. He wrote music for the movies, for television, and for a number of great musical artists.

Gerald Wilson was also a great educator who taught thousands of students at several universities, including UCLA. He loved to teach, and he helped his students gain a better knowledge and appreciation of American music and the art of jazz.

Those of us who had the privilege to know and to work with Gerald will be forever grateful for his presence in our lives. Gerald Wilson was a true master of music and a great human being." -- Kenny Burrell

To read more about Gerald Wilson:
Statement on the Death of NEA Jazz Master Gerald Wilson (National Endowment for the Arts, 9/9/14)
Gerald Wilson dies at 96; multifaceted jazz musician (Los Angeles Times, 9/9/14)
Gerald Wilson Dead at 96, Big Band Leader Played with Duke Ellington and Count Basie (Huffington Post, 9/9/14)
Gerald Wilson, jazz big band leader, dies at 96 (CBS News, 9/9/14)
Trumpeter Gerald Wilson, Blowing Strong (NPR, 9/5/06)
About the Performer: Gerald Wilson Orchestra (Walt Disney Concert Hall, 7/06)
All Music: Gerald Wilson

To read about jazz studies at UCLA:
Ensemble History: Traditional Jazz Ensemble
History of Ethnomusicology at UCLA (see paragraphs 15 and 16 for information about jazz studies).
Undergraduate Jazz Studies Concentration