Tuesday, July 15, 2008

R.I.P.: Gerald Wiggins.

From the L.A. Times:

     Gerald Wiggins, a jazz pianist whose long career embraced numerous recordings with his trio, performances with Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Zoot Sims, accompaniment for Lena Horne and Nat "King" Cole, and vocal coaching for Marilyn Monroe, has died. He was 86.
     Versatility was Wiggins' stock in trade, but the foundation of his playing was his work with a variety of trios -- especially with a unit that included bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Paul Humphrey.
     Wiggins was also an extraordinary accompanist, highly praised for his ability to respond to the needs of a stylistically diverse range of singers.
     He settled in Los Angeles for good in the late '40s -- still in his 20s and one of the busiest musicians on the West Coast scene. His presence on more than two dozen recordings in the '50s, his active studio work and the constant calls to accompany the likes of Eartha Kitt, Dinah Washington, Lou Rawls, Pearl Bailey, Ernie Andrews and others occasionally reduced the opportunities to perform with his trio. But a pattern of musical eclecticism was set that would continue for nearly six decades, highlighted by the periods in which his estimable jazz qualities had the opportunity to surface through his many other activities.
     One of my high-school music teachers was a major Gerald Wiggins fan, and I learned about him from "Wild" Bill Wanamaker. 
     "Wild" Bill was a non-traditional guy who taught a ton of us as much about music's feel through his exuberance as all our music lessons combined. 
     Wiggins often played at the "Lighthouse Café" in Hermosa Beach, a legendary West Coast jazz landmark.
     The building remains largely unchanged today, and continues as a key live-music venue in the South Bay.   

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