Gerry wiggins: West Coast jazz pianist

A flexible and expressive soloist, Gerry Wiggins probably had more work than any other jazz pianist. He seemed never to stop and no doubt developed the habit when he was a boy, when he went to school during the day and then played at New York's Monroe's Uptown House from midnight until dawn.

Not keen, as a child, on his piano studies, he suddenly saw the light when he heard a solo record by the piano phenomenon Art Tatum.

"When I first heard that record," he said, "I thought it was two or three people playing at the same time." Wiggins took Tatum as a model, a choice in itself that gives testimony to his skills. He began meeting his idol at Reuben's, an after-hours hang-out for pianists.

"Art was the kind of guy that if you asked him to show you something he would, but nine times out of 10 you couldn't do it anyhow," he said. In 1941 Tatum recommended Wiggins to the comedian Stepin Fetchit.

"I did some playing with Stepin Fetchit, but he used me as a straight man, too," Wiggins recalled. "We worked a lot, touring all over one horse towns, but I was making $50 a week and that was a lot of money back then."

When the two played at the Brooklyn Strand in New York Wiggins met Les Hite, whose band was also on the bill. Hite, about to leave for his base in Los Angeles, needed a piano player and asked Wiggins to join. He did, and it was a fateful move, for on the one hand it took Wiggins away from New York, where he could have found fame as a jazz musician, but on the other it introduced him to Hollywood, where he found endless and profitable work.

In 1942 Wiggins played on Hite's recording of "Jersey Bounce", a record that featured one of the earliest bebop solos by Dizzy Gillespie. The following year another trumpeter, Louis Armstrong, invited Wiggins into his band ifor a cross-country tour. Wiggins was horrified by the treatment that the musicians received in the Deep South. "I put in my notice with Louis as soon as we got to New York," he said."Then Benny Carter called me a few days later and asked me to join his band. I asked him if he was going to go South and he said, 'Oh no, of course not. Don't worry about it.' Naturally the first stop the band made was in Macon, Georgia. I got so mad at Benny that I put in my notice. J J Johnson and Max Roach had to talk me out of quitting."

Wiggins was relieved when the band left the road and returned to Los Angeles, but he had to leave when he went into the US Army for two years, which he spent in a military band in Seattle.

After his discharge he spent two years in San Francisco, where he formed a trio and built up his name locally. He rejoined Carter's band for a time, until in 1950 Lena Horne asked him to go to Europe with her. While they were in Paris he made some of the most significant records of his early career, with Roy Eldridge and Zoot Sims, who were also visiting the city.

In the years that followed he appeared on many records, often leading his own trio, but most of his work came from backing singers. He took this role with Nat King Cole, Lou Rawls, Eartha Kitt, Dinah Washington, Joe Williams, Kay Starr, Esther Williams and Helen Humes, among others. He became famous on the West Coast as the accompanist to have if you were a singer.

"Stay out of their way! Don't get on their notes," was his philosophy. "Be in the background at all times. With singers I play differently behind each one, because each one sings different. I adapt my style to their way of singing."

He worked in jazz clubs at night and in the film studios by day, coaching Marilyn Monroe when she was called on to sing in her film roles. A framed photograph at his home was signed "For Gerry. I can't make a sound without you. Love you, Marilyn." He performed the same task for Lucille Ball, and recorded his piano on the soundtrack of the film Lady Sings The Blues (1972).

From then onwards he continued to lead his trio, usually completed by the notable musicians Andy Simpkins and Paul Humphrey, and worked in the big band led by Gerald Wilson. Among his innumerable jobs he also played for Scott Hamilton and Bill Berry and travelled to Europe and Japan to play at jazz festivals. He began a long and fruitful association with the Concord label in 1990 and went on to make some notable albums with the company.

He was given many accolades, not the least of them when the Mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, proclaimed "Gerald Wiggins Day" in the city.

Gerald Foster Wiggins, pianist: born New York 12 May 1922, married 1987 (one son, three daughters); died Los Angeles 13 July 2008.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Jobs Available Devon

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

£20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering