Monday, 22 September 2014

Doug Ramsay on Gerald Wilson

Following the death of Gerald Wilson on 8 September, Doug Ramsay posted an excellent piece on his Rifftides blog about Wilson's piece El Viti, one of sixteen charts the composer/arranger offered Ellington and which Duke featured during his engagement at La Côte d'Azur in 1966.

Doug writes:

"When I was working on the essay that accompanies the Mosaic box set of his Pacific Jazz recordings, Mr. Wilson and I discussed his development of eight-part harmony. He applied it to the piece he  wrote in honor of the Spanish bullfighter Santiago Martín, known as El Viti (born in 1938).

“El Viti was a great matador,” Gerald says, “different from any other I ever saw. He never smiled, and he was tough. I tried to trace a picture of him, as it gets down into a unique part where his stuff in the ring would get wild but not overbearing. It was a place for me to use my eight-part harmony. You’ll hear the brass playing it, with two different times going at once. You know, I invented eight-part harmony.”

Here, the muted trumpet is by Wilson, the only instance of his playing with his band on a recording. Anthony Ortega is the alto saxophone soloist.

Again, from the Mosaic notes:

Multi-part harmony in modern classical music starts with Debussy and Ravel and reaches monumental proportions in Bartok, Stravinsky, Ives and Scriabin. I asked the composer and orchestrator Jeff Sultanoff about the use of eight-part harmony in jazz, and about Wilson’s role in it.

“As Gerald defines it,” Sultanof said, “it means that in an eight-part brass section, all parts are different, no doubling octaves and such. He was probably the first to do this, although other arrangers had tried similar things. I can think of Pete Rugolo as an immediate example, but he did not start doing it until about 1946, whereas Gerald claims he was doing it as early as 1945. I can also think of Ellington and Strayhorn who did not voice ensembles in the ‘standard’ way. There are isolated examples of it in Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan’s work, but I don’t recall anyone doing it on a regular basis before Gerald.”

In 1966 Duke Ellington recorded Wilson’s arrangement of “El Viti,” also known in the Ellington book as “The Matador,” in the Verve album of Côte d’Azur Concerts."

Read the whole post here.

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