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About Bob Wilber
Throughout his long career, saxophonist Bob Wilber has done a lot to keep classic jazz alive. A bit misplaced (most jazz players of his generation were much more interested in bop and hard bop), Wilber (along with Kenny Davern, Ralph Sutton, and Dick Wellstood) was one of the few in his age group to stick to pre-bop music. Influenced on soprano, clarinet, and alto by Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman, and Johnny Hodges, respectively, Wilber has long had his own sound on each of his instruments. In high school he formed a band that included Wellstood, and as a teenager he sat in at Jimmy Ryan's club in New York. Early on he became Sidney Bechet's protégé and led his own young group, the Wildcats, with whom he released several early albums, including 1949's Bob Wilbur and His Jazz Band and 1951's Young Men with Horns.
The close association with the dominant Bechet led to a bit of a personality crisis in the 1950s as Wilber sought to find his own voice. He studied with Lennie Tristano and formed the Six, a group that tried to modernize early jazz, a sound heard on 1955's The Six. When that ended, he played Dixieland with Eddie Condon, and in 1957 joined Bobby Hackett's band for a year. Wilber freelanced throughout the 1960s, working with Ralph Sutton and releasing such albums as Blowin' the Blues Away (with trumpeter Clark Terry) and New Clarinet in Town. In 1968 he became a founding member of the World's Greatest Jazz Band alongside Bob Haggart and Yank Lawson. A year later he paid tribute to one of his idols with The Music of Hoagy Carmichael.
Along with his continued work with the World's Greatest Jazz Band, in 1973 he formed Soprano Summit with clarinetist Kenny Davern. One of the top swing-oriented groups of the decade, Soprano Summit released a handful of well-regarded efforts, including 1974's Soprano Summit I, and played numerous live concerts. Also during the '70s, Wilber teamed up with his wife, singer Pug Horton, in Bechet Legacy (which also featured either Glenn Zottola or Randy Sandke on trumpet). The '80s were a fruitful decade for Wilber, who performed often with a bevy of traditional and repertory ensembles, releasing such albums as 1981's Music of King Oliver, 1982's Ode to Bechet, and 1983's Reflections. He also suppled the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola's 1920s Harlem-based drama The Cotton Club, and in 1987 authored his frank memoirs, Music Was Not Enough. The following year, he led a band at Carnegie Hall to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Benny Goodman's famous concert.
In 1990, Wilber paired again with Davern for Summit Reunion, and subsequently followed up with several of his own efforts, including 1994's Dancing on a Rainbow, 1995's Bean: Bob Wilber's Tribute to Coleman Hawkins, and 1996's Nostalgia on the Arbors label. He then honored legendary arranger Fletcher Henderson with 2000's Fletcher Henderson's Unrecorded Arrangements for Benny Goodman, and joined vibraphonist Dany Doritz for 2002's Memories of You: Lionel and Benny. He continued to tour and record over the next several years, appearing with Soprano Summit and releasing 2010's Bob Wilber Is Here! with Bucky Pizzarelli, Antti Sarpila, Nikki Parrott, and others. He then joined fellow reed players Sarpila and Pieter Meijers for 2012's The Three Amigos, and the following year joined pianist Bill Charlap's trio and clarinetist Anat Cohen at the Newport Jazz Festival. ~ Scott Yanow
- New York, NY
- 15 Mar 1928
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