Appropriately titled, "Among Friends" celebrates the 80th birthday of trumpet veteran, Joe Wilder, backed by his favorite musicians that include jazz luminaries ranging from young musicians such as pianist Bill Charlap and guitarist Russell Malone to legends such as saxophonist Frank Wess and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. These and other musicians play with Wilder in different combinations ranging from duet to sextet.
It all works. The atmosphere is amiable and comfortable. Wilder is clearly enjoying himself. His tone is pure and warm.
Born in 1922, Wilder was classically trained, but by the time he came of age there were no avenues for such a career. Instead, he caught the big band wave which led him to the orchestras of Les Hite, Lionel Hampton, Jimmie Lunceford, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie. With the death of the big band era, Wilder turned to Broadway musicals in the 1950s such as ‘Guys and Dolls’ while playing in smaller bands with Hank Jones, Tadd Dameron, Benny Carter, Gil Evans and others. He also managed to become that principal trumpet of the Symphony of the New World.
Wilder is a class act and the music on this album is terrific. This is not cutting edge material, but it doesn’t matter. Wilder features music that he knows best over the years and it’s nice to listen to music that exudes the joy of the camaraderie of playing in a band. Rodger and Hart’s ‘My Romance’ is arranged as a duet between Wilder and Malone. It is slow, graceful and elegant. ‘Seventy-six Trombones’ from "The Music Man" may at first give one pause for being a bit overplayed, but the way they play is so luscious it doesn’t matter. Wilder and Pizzarelli take on Stevie Wonder’s ‘You are the Sunshine of My Life,’ While it is no match for the elation of the original, this version has a wistful quality as if the sunshine is still there even though we have grown much older.
Sweets Edison’s ‘Centerpiece’ is the highlight of the album. Wilder employs a sextet and there is enough room for everyone to stretch out and play. It is hard not to snap your fingers and sway affectionately to this music. The closer is an impromptu ‘Lady Be Good’ that features Skitch Henderson in the Count Basie role directing traffic.
This is the way to celebrate one’s birthday, with friends.