Tag Archives: Phil Bodner

JOE WILDER’S MAGIC

 Ask any musician, “Tell me about Joe Wilder,” and watch the warm smile that immediately emerges.  He’s a rare being — generous in person and in his music, warm and caring, whether the horn is up to his lips or he’s chatting over lunch, in a cab, or at an airport.  There’s no division between the public man and the private one: both are genuinely loving, open individuals.     

I met him in person perhaps thirty years ago at an outdoor concert in Glen Cove, New York.  Joe travels in the best company, so he was playing in a little band with Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, Phil Bodner, and perhaps Bobby Rosengarden.  And I’ve gotten to know him better by seeing him at Jazz at Chautauqua for the past six years.  Joe never forgets a friend or a kindness, so although he knows thousands of people, he remembered me kindly.  

I had heard Joe on records for a long time — the golden arching phrases of his Columbia records of the Fifties, the warm balletic phrases of his Savoy session, his more recent work for the Evening Star and Arbors labels. 

But this was the first year I really accomplished what I’d hoped to do — catch Joe in performance with groups of his friends.  And here are two examples of Mr. Wilder’s subtle magic — in company with Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, bass; John Von Ohlen, drums — as he approaches two familiar jazz standards, making them brand-new by his delight in playing.  Keith had his back to me, but he was grinning — and you can see the delight on the faces of Frank and John as well.   

Joe’s style is a wonderful mixture of the singing embrace of a melody — great ringing “lead” playing that would point the way for a big band or a symphonic trumpet section — mixed with a dancing harmonic and rhythmic subtlety worthy of the great modernists that would be impossible to notate.  Joe loves to play with what he’s given, and he is a born experimenter. 

He took great delight in something that I’d written in CODA: that I could hear him in solos getting into what other musicians would think of as traps or dead-ends, and then getting himself out without creasing his clothes.  His solos sound like the conversation of someone bursting with ideas whose straight-ahead expositions are always full of thoughtful, witty parentheses. 

And you can hear his whimsical embellishment at work on these songs, as if he was constantly amusing himself by testing his artistic ingenuity: “Can I get this rapid-fire reference to THE CONTINENTAL in this phrase and get out again without messing up in relation to the rapidly moving chords under me?  Wow, I can and I could!  What’s next?”  He’s always thinking while he’s playing, and his solos aren’t formulaic arrangements of familiar modules laid end to end. 

Here he is, dancing around HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES:

And being the perfect gentleman escorting that SATIN DOLL:

By the way: did I mention that Joe Wilder was born February 22, 1922? 

Don’t let the numbers fool you: he has the youngest and biggest heart I know — and he never closes it off to the music or to us.

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BREATHING THE SAME AIR

Were I a different sort of person, I could blame my parents, who were lovingly overprotective.  I could be irked at them now for not encouraging me to leave my suburban nest at 14 or 15 to go into New York City.  Had they been more adventurous souls themselves, I might have seen Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart in the flesh.  But by the time I began to make the trek, Ben Webster had left for Europe; Coleman Hawkins had died. 

Rather than lament the ones I’ve missed, I will list the names of the heroic players and singers  — now dead — I did get to see.

Trumpets / cornets: Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ray Nance, Louis Metcalf, Herman Autrey, Doc Cheatham, Pat Jenkins, Joe Newman, Joe Thomas, Max Kaminsky, Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Jimmy McPartland, Johnny Windhurst, Taft Jordan, Franc Williams, Jimmy Maxwell.

Trombones: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Benny Morton, Bobby Pratt, Georg Brunis, Dick Rath, Tyree Glenn, Eli Robinson.

Reeds: Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Al Klink, Herb Hall, Kenny Davern, Sal Pace, Russell Procope, Benny Carter, Johnny Mince, Bud Freeman, Buddy Tate, Phil Bodner, Sam Margolis, Harold Ashby, Earle Warren, Rudy Rutherford, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Clifford Jordan, Rudy Powell, Budd Johnson, Eddie Barefield, Lockjaw Davis, Allen Eager, Barney Bigard, Paul Quinichette, Illinois Jacquet, George Kelly.

Pianos: Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Claude Hopkins, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Jane Jarvis, Hank Jones, John Bunch, Jimmy Rowles, Eubie Blake, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Ross Tompkins, Joe Bushkin, Ellis Larkins, Sammy Price, Art Hodes.

Guitars: Eddie Condon, Freddie Green, Wayne Wright, Herb Ellis, Al Casey, Bernard Addison, Carmen Mastren, George Barnes.

Basses: Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Charles Mingus, Al Hall, Bill Pemberton, Gene Ramey, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Franklyn Skeete.

Drums: Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Cliff Leeman, Chauncey Morehouse, Buzzy Drootin, Tommy Benford, Oliver Jackson, Eddie Locke, Sonny Greer, Sam Woodyard, Gus Johnson, Jake Hanna, Connie Kay, Freddie Moore.

Vibraphone (or Vibraharp): Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo.

Violin: Joe Venuti.

Vocals: Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Lee Wiley, Bing Crosby, Al Hibbler, Maxine Sullivan.

I miss them all, but feel so fortunate that I was there to breathe the same air, to hear their sounds.

THREE WAYS OF LOOKING AT MONA HINTON

Mona Hinton, Milt’s widow, died yesterday at 89 after a long illness.  Those are the spare facts.  Here are three stories:

When Milt was a rather exuberant young musician, Mona made him behave himself, save his money, take care of business.  Irene Leeman, married for years to the great (and under-acknowledged) drummer Cliff, said recently, “Mona was always pushing and encouraging Milt.  ‘Get out there, Judge, and sing that song.  Take another solo, Judge.'”  Milt was a wonderful player and warm personality, but Mona’s loving prodding no doubt made him the beloved public figure he was.

My good friend Stu Zimny, a fine bass player who took a few lessons (and a good deal of on-the-spot spiritual guidance) from Milt, told me about being the happy recipient of Milt and Mona’s generosity.  And, he has emphasized more than once, her fried chicken was delicious, her portions generous.

When I saw Milt at an outdoor concert in 1981 in Glen Cove, New York (he was with Dick Hyman, Joe Wilder, Phil Bodner, and Bobby Rosengarden) I asked him, “Where’s Mona?” not seeing her anywhere.  With some amusement, Milt said, “Oh, man, she’s heard all my shit already.”

People like Mona — loving, generous — should always be celebrated.  We’ll miss her!