Wilmer Wise: Be sure Brain is engaged before putting Mouthpiece in gear.

Festival of New Trumpet Music is celebrating Wilmer Wise on Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at Abrons Art Center! Mark your calendars and please come meet this remarkable musician and wonderful person! There will be music and refreshments and good company. Advance tix available here. Proceeds directly benefit FONT’s nonprofit new trumpet programs.

Some of you may not be familiar with Mr. Wise, a legend of trumpet playing who has broken barriers in so many ways. FONT’s mission is to support new trumpet music by commissioning music, presenting new music, and recognizing creative pioneers. Wilmer Wise is certainly the latter, and definitely still engaged in the former. This will be a long over-due celebration of his life and music. He’s playing new music written for him by Jimmy Owens. I will be there with some special friends as well. Gathering at 6; music at 7:30.


On January 14, also at Abrons, Wilmer will perform Ornette Coleman’s piece (which he premiered in 1974), ‘The Sacred Mind of Johnny Dolphin,’ for trumpet, string quartet and percussion. Wilmer, Lew Soloff, and Taylor Ho Bynum will also play new arrangements of Ornette’s music by members of the Pulse Collective: Joe Phillips, Darcy James Argue, and J.C. Sanford. Please join us for this double bill — with the Brass Music of Charles Wuorinen played by New York Trumpet Ensemble and Urban Brass. (About which more later).

I repeat, January 14 Double Bill: Ornette Coleman & Charles Wuorinen.

Wilmer Wise hosts a forum at Trumpetmaster.com and his signature is indicative of his thoughtful and inspired musicality:

Be sure Brain is engaged before putting Mouthpiece in gear. S. Suark 1951

Here’s a bit of bio:

Working with everyone from Pablo Casals to Placido Domingo, Philip Glass to Steven Sondheim, Rudolph Serkin to Leonard Bernstein, the Marlboro Festival Orchestra to the New York Philharmonic, Quincy Jones to Weather Report and many others in between, Wilmer Wise has truly been there and done that.

Born in Philadelphia on December 21st, 1936, Wise began playing the trumpet when he was eight years old. He studied for six years with the legendary Sigmund Hering, a forty-year veteran of the Philadelphia Orchestra and widely considered the most influential trumpet teacher of his day, as well as Hering student Gil Johnson, Sam Krauss and Nat Prager, before turning professional in 1960. He began his career as the only black musician in the orchestras for the Broadway show previews in Philadelphia, including Showgirl with Carol Channing, and also performed as a guest soloist with groups such as Quincy Jones’ band as they passed through town. In the early 60’s, he also joined the trumpet section of Johnny Lynch’s Club Harlem Band of Atlantic City, which already included Johnny Coles and Lamar Wright.

In 1965, Wise began a five-year stint as the Baltimore Symphony’s Assistant Principal Trumpet. In a city that was slow to accept racial integration, the only place he could live was the Mount Royal Hotel, a well-known haven for African-American entertainers such as Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor, who Wise already knew from his days in Philadelphia. That same year, he also joined the Symphony of the New World, a fully integrated orchestra that featured both black and white performers, as well as men and women. The group, which also featured Joe Wilder on first cornet, was sponsored in part by the Ford Foundation and played its own concert at Carnegie Hall. 1965 was also the year he toured Europe as first trumpet in the Marlboro Festival Orchestra, conducted by Rudolf Serkin, and played on the ensemble’s famous recordings with cellist Pablo Casals.

One of the first jobs he got upon relocating to New York in 1970 was playing in the American Symphony conducted by Leopold Stokowski. A year later, he played in his first show on Broadway, Lovely Ladies and Kind Gentlemen, an unmemorable flop that actually led to a more lucrative job at Madison Square Garden. Wise would go on to become a first-call trumpeter on Broadway, playing lead trumpet in more than 30 shows, including five of Steven Sondheim’s biggest hits and their original cast recordings. He also played lead trumpet on the only recording of West Side Story conducted by Leonard Bernstein, as well as on many of Philip Glass’ movie soundtracks. His most long-lasting job was as the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s principal trumpet, a position he held for more than three decades until his retirement in 2003.

There is a fantastic interview with Wilmer, conducted by Laurie Frink in 2005. It is at the site of the International Trumpet Guild.

One of the things that grabbed me is, when asked to name one remembrance that stands out in his long career, he says “Actually, I don’t know of any time I’ve not enjoyed myself playing the trumpet and making music.”

Here’s another excerpt:

Frink: You studied with Sigmund Hering?!

Wise: (nods, smiling) For about six years. He never played a note for me. In fact, he had students come into the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia and I played duets with them. So I got there early and my lessons were free as a result. One summer I got a chance to study with Gil Johnson (also a Hering student) because the Philadelphia Orchestra was away on tour so I studied with Gil at the Settlement Music School.

Frink: So Hering was still in the orchestra?

Wise: Yes, he was still in the Philadelphia Orchestra and Gil was in the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra and he came up to teach for Hering. I used to get there early just to hear Gil. He would practice everything on the C trumpet, the piccolo trumpet, and the E-flat trumpet. He would play with such a sound! I try to emulate Gil. I try to emulate a couple of guys in my classical playing. The sound I hear in my head is a combination of Gil Johnson, Harry Glantz, and Sam Krauss. Classical trumpet players need to sound like a combination of players, not just one. That’s what I hear in the best. I hear some Bud (Herseth) in Phil’s (Smith) playing, I also hear some Vacchiano. It’s like a music history lesson when I hear the best trumpet players. You hear their teachers and you hear an expression of themselves in their sound. Each trumpet player has a unique sound. That’s the beauty of the instrument!! With jazz players it’s a little more discernable. You can hear some Pops (Louis Armstrong) in just about everybody, even guys who never heard Pops. If you listen to Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Clifford Brown, you hear a little Pops in them. And I must say that I hear a little Pops in some symphonic players. I just hear Pops all over the place, but that’s me. (laughing)

It is that remarkable optimism and openness that has inspired generations of collaborators. Just this morning I received an email from one of America’s preeminent musicians, David Amram:

Thank you for honoring Wilmer, a fabulous musician and friend since Marlboro Festival in 1969 when we first met. Wilmer began with the Brooklyn Phil the same year that I did.

I was chosen to be the Director of Free School Time, Family and Parks concerts, and remained there for 29 years until their funds ran out!

That first year, Sam Levitan, the contractor, told me that I could choose ONE musician and I asked Sam to call Wilmer. I knew that if Wilmer was there, he could carry THE WHOLE ORCHESTRA if things ever got mysterious, and also like many of the other great free lance players of that era, I new that Wilmer could bring a really high level of artistry, creativity and true musicianship to make everyone else FEEL LIKE PLAYING at THEIR highest level.

He still continues to do that today.

Wilmer played many solos with us, in addition to playing on many of my recordings and other concerts I have done and is the consummate musician!!

Wilmer is one of our greats!

David Amram


The Festival, and me personally, are thrilled to be working with Wilmer and presenting this music. Hope to see you there.