This essay uses the 1960s, Gerald Wilson’s most prolific period, as a window into his life and work as a big band jazz trumpeter, soloist, arranger, conductor, and composer. This selective snapshot of Wilson’s career inserts him more fully into jazz—and California—history, while analyzing the influence of Latin music and Mexican culture on his creations. Tracing the black-brown connections in his Alta California art demonstrates an often-overlooked aspect of Wilson’s musical legacy: the fact that he wrote, arranged, recorded, and performed Latin-tinged tunes, especially several brassy homages to Mexican bullfighters, as well as Latin jazz originals. Wilson’s singular soul jazz reveals the drive and dedication of a disciplined artist—both student and teacher—who continually honed his craft and expanded his talents as part of his educational and musical philosophy. Wilson’s California story is that of an African American migrant who moves out west, where he meets a Chicana Angelena and starts a family—in the tradition of Cali-mestizaje—then stays for the higher quality of life, for the freedom to raise his children and live as an artist, further developing and fully expressing his style. However, because he never moved to New York, Wilson remains under-researched and underappreciated by academic jazz experts. Using cultural history and cultural studies research methods, this essay makes the case that Gerald Wilson should be more widely recognized and honored for his genius, greatness, and outstanding achievements in the field of modern jazz, from San Francisco to Monterey, Hollywood, and Hermosa Beach.
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