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.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
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

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin