Gerald Wiggins On Piano Jazz

May 29, 2012
Originally published on June 15, 2012 1:34 pm

Piano Jazz remembers jazz piano master Gerald Wiggins, who died in 2008, in a session recorded in 1992.

Born in 1922 in Harlem, N.Y., Wiggins began learning classical piano at a young age. He was a student at New York City's High School of Music and Art when he discovered jazz through pianists Teddy Wilson and, later, Art Tatum. In this session, Wiggins talked about some of his early professional gigs with the big bands of Benny Carter and Les Hite, as well as his first "big job" playing for controversial actor/comedian Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln Perry). He also conjures up two tunes from the early days of his career: Sammy Cahn's "If It's the Last Thing I Do" and a Wiggins original with the curious title "Edie Is a Sweetie."

Wiggins eventually settled in Los Angeles, where host Marian McPartland caught up with him for this week's session. A versatile pianist and arranger, Wiggins was a natural in his various jobs at Hollywood movie studios. As he tells McPartland, "Working at the studios often meant not getting credit for one's musical input." However, the job had perks that other gigs did not –- like working as a rehearsal pianist and vocal coach for stars like Marilyn Monroe. Wiggins earned a reputation as a skillful accompanist, and he worked with vocal luminaries such as Lena Horne, Kay Starr, Eartha Kitt and Pearl Bailey.

Wiggins and McPartland share the distinction of being volumes 8 and 9, respectively, in Concord Records' series of piano solo recitals at Maybeck Hall. Wiggins performs a swinging blues heard on his Maybeck recording: Ahmad Jamal's "Night Mist." McPartland follows with a solo of her own, "Please Be Kind." The two wind up the hour with a duet in Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time."

"He was quite a good piano player," McPartland says. "Whatever he did was swinging. I enjoyed playing the blues ('Now's the Time') with him. We took it very fast and went out in a blaze of glory."

Wiggins died July 13, 2008 in Los Angeles. He was 86.

Originally recorded Jan. 24, 1992.

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