Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 15 March 1928, NYC; d 4 August 2019, Chipping Campden, England) Clarinet, saxophones, leader. Played with Dick Wellstood while still in school; studied with both Sidney Bechet and Lennie Tristano, setting a pattern: a first-class musician who refuses to be limited to this or that genre, feeling strongly that the proper home of jazz is in the mainstream of popular music. He recorded on Commodore and other labels '47 with the Wildcats including Wellstood, many times with him until almost 40 years later on Duets (on Progressive); he recorded for his own Bodeswell label, Parkwood, Fat Cat's Jazz, Monmouth-Evergreen etc, many of the albums ending up in the Jazzology group (see that entry).

He formed a co-operative group the Six '54-6, an attempt to create a music neither old-fashioned nor self-consciously modern; toured the UK with Eddie Condon, played with Bobby Hackett (doubling on vibes); freelanced with Ruby Braff, Bud Freeman, Benny Goodman, others. He played with the World's Greatest Jazz Band (see Yank Lawson); left '73 and formed Soprano Summit with Kenny Davern, Marty Grosz on banjo and guitar, George Duvivier on bass, various drummers: albums including Crazy Rhythm and Chalumeau Blue on Chiaroscuro, Live At Big Horn Jazzfest '76 on Jazzology, In Concert '76 (with Jake Hanna, Ray Brown) and Live At Concord '77 on Concord Jazz; reunions as Summit Reunion, then as Soprano Reunion on Yellow Dog Blues '95 on Chiaroscuro, with Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, Bucky Pizzarelli and Bobby Rosengarden. See also Davern's entry.

Wilber toured in a trio with his wife, vocalist Joanne 'Pug' Horton, and Dave McKenna on piano: Original Wilber and Groovin' At The Grunewald on the Swedish Phontastic label; he transcribed Jelly Roll Morton tunes for performance; formed Bechet Legacy '81: septet albums (including Horton) were made live at Bechet's NYC (one with guest Vic Dickenson) on Jazzology. He transcribed King Oliver for Bob Wilber's Jazz Repertory Orchestra: The Music Of King Oliver Vol. 1 on Bodeswell; re-created Duke Ellington's Washingtonians of '27 for soundtrack of The Cotton Club '84; formed a Goodman tribute band with British musicianswhich toured '85-6.

Other albums: Reflections on Circle with 'The Bodeswell Strings', Wilber playing all five reed parts, and sextet Dizzyfingers on Bodeswell; Vital Wilber, Swingin' For The King (Goodman tribute with Horton and eight Swedes), sextet Rapturous Reeds (no brass), septet In The Mood For Swing (with Al Klink, Pizzarelli, Hank Jones, Frank Wess), all on Phontastic. Also The Music Of Hoagy Carmichael with Sullivan on Audiophile CD, with Scott Hamilton on Chiaroscuro, many more. Bob Wilber's Bechet Legacy: Tribute To A Legend '95 on Nagel Heyer was made in Hamburg by a sextet plus vocalist Horton on some tracks. On the Arbors label, Nostalgia '95 made in West Palm Beach had Sutton, Haggart, Pizzarelli, Butch Miles on drums; on Bean: A Tribute To Coleman Hawkins Wilber played tenor with three other tenor players: Antii Sarpila (from Finland, wrote 'Flight Of The Hawk'), Tommy Whittle (from Scotland) and Harry Allen (b 12 October 1966, Wash. DC), plus Mick Pyne, piano (b 2 September 1940, Yorkshire; d 24 May 1995), Dave Green on bass, Dave Cliff on guitar, Clark Tracey on drums; Bufadora Blow-Up '96 was a much better than usual re-creation of the Big Band Era, with mostly Wilber's own tunes. Wilber survived decades of critical lusting after fashion to become one of the most highly regarded in the age of repertory music.