I’ve learned this morning (May 9, 2014) from his friend and co-author Ed Berger that trumpeter and jazz pioneer Joe Wilder has died. He leaves a huge hole in the world.
There was a flurry of false information back in February, and I spread what was erroneous bad news, but now it is sadly true.
Joe was not only a shining example to other musicians; he shone for us all. He was a gentleman in the way the word is no longer used: someone whose concern for his fellow human beings was strong. He expected men and women to treat each other kindly — he did this as a matter of course — and he was shocked when it didn’t happen.
He was the very model of grace — and I mean a quality that goes beyond simple politeness.
We met first at an outdoor concert in 1981 where I took some photographs of the band. Later, through a fan of Joe’s, I obtained his address (this was perhaps ten years later) and we entered into correspondence about the photos and some tapes of him he had not heard.
Those letters were precious documents — evidence of how that gentle man faced even the most mundane things. Later, when I had the privilege of meeting him in person, his kindness and good humor was immense: the Beloved and I cherish a chance meeting with him on the street outside Birdland, where our collective delight was memorable. We weren’t simply thrilled to meet Joe Wilder — let me make this clear — he made us feel as if we were his dearest friends, and the memory of that chance encounter warms me now.
I will let others tell Joe’s stories — a particular friend, Ed Berger, has done and will continue to do that, superbly here. And happily Joe lived long enough to celebrate his ninety-second birthday among friends and to see that book published.
Instead, I will present some of his music that I was fortunate enough to capture. Joe lives on in our memory, not only for his brilliant warm sound, his elegant capers on trumpet and fluegelhorn, but as a model of how to live: with kindness, compassion, awareness, and amusement. These videos are from 2010, late in his playing career.
and here is an early masterpiece:
Thank you, Mr. Wilder, for being. You came to us on February 22, 1922, and gave generously of your self every day. I write these words with sorrow and send love to your family. But I think of you with joy.
And Joe was far too modest a man to present himself as a model of how others should behave, but I think if we had him in our thoughts as an embodiment of loving action, he wouldn’t mind.
May your happiness increase!