May 12, 2014
Joe Wilder, a lyrical trumpeter who played with some of the biggest big bands in jazz and helped integrate Broadway, radio and television orchestras, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 92.
Wilder, who played cornet and fluegelhorn as well as trumpet, lent his elegant tone to bands led by Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford and Benny Goodman. In 1962 he toured the Soviet Union with Goodman in an historic series of shows. He also worked, in concert and in the studio, with Billie Holiday, Harry Belafonte and many other singers.
A soft-spoken and stately man who never appeared in public without a tie, he developed a clear and even sound that reflected the years he spent studying classical performance as a young man. He aspired to a symphonic career but gravitated to jazz out of necessity.
If for no other reason, Wilder will always deserve mention for his work in desegregating Broadway orchestras. Through the 1940s, Broadway was also off-limits to black musicians; few if any performed in the "pit" of musicals, a plum union job that allowed jazz musicians steady income while they worked on their craft. It’s not clear who was the first, but Mr. Wilder was certainly one of the first — and even after he had crossed the color line he faced obstacles. Not until Cole Porter himself blessed Mr. Wilder’s choice as first trumpet in the orchestra for his show “Silk Stockings,” did that change, and race was rarely if ever an issue for Broadway pit bands after that.
Mr. Wilder played an equally important role, along with the bassist Milt Hinton and a few others, in integrating the studio bands of network radio and, later, television. Mr. Wilder, a member of the ABC ensemble from 1957 until the television networks did away with such bands in the 1970s, was heard on “The Voice of Firestone,” “The Dick Cavett Show” and other programs that used live music.
In 2008 Mr. Wilder was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation’s highest honor for a jazz musician.
Myers has a wonderful salute to Mr. Wilder on his JazzWax site,
including music and video.