Someone once jokingly referred to Jack Wilson as “everyone’s favorite unknown jazz pianist.” It’s true, though, that for someone who recorded several albums for Blue Note and a number of other labels, Wilson doesn’t get much love from the wider jazz audience (if there is such a thing these days). I’ve sometimes wondered, only somewhat facetiously, if it’s because “Jack Wilson” is such a bland name. If his contemporaries had nicknamed him “Sonny” or “Fats,” maybe it would have raised his profile.
His profile is well worth raising, though. Take Easterly Winds, his second album for Blue Note, recorded in 1967. With a front line of Jackie McLean, Lee Morgan, and the lamentably little-known Garnett Brown on Trombone, and a rhythm section of Bob Cranshaw and Billy Higgins, it has a lot going for it even before you hear the music.
Most of the compositions are Wilson’s, except for Frank Strozier’s Frank’s Tune and Johnny Mandel’s ballad A Time for Love, the latter of which features Wilson in a trio setting and highlights both his excellent technique and feeling. I really like Wilson the composer. Musicians looking for something fresh ought to investigate the title tune and Nirvanna, both of which have that spiritual jazz uplift feeling that means so much to me. Do It, the obligatory “let’s try for another Sidewinder” effort gets nice and funky, with a solid bop gutbucket solo by Brown. I’m a sucker for Jackie Mac’s astringent, passionate alto, and Lee Morgan’s contributions are, as always, a reminder of how much we lost when he died so young. On Children, with a crisp Billy Higgins opening, is another fine track.
Maybe Jack Wilson isn’t so neglected after all. In a couple of weeks, a previously unreleased set, Call Me -Jazz from the Penthouse, featuring Wilson and vibraphonist Roy Ayers, is coming out on CD, and based on their work together on other recordings, a great combination.
Here are Nirvanna and Easterly Winds for your delectation.