Goodbye, Gerald Wiggins

DevraDoWrite reports that Gerald Wiggins died this morning in Los Angeles at the age of Wiggins.jpgeighty-six. Encouraged when he was a youngster by Art Tatum, for decades Wiggins was revered by listeners and musicians–particularly by other pianists. Anyone familiar with his playing could recognize him immediately by his harmonic acuity, touch, use of space and wry turns of phrase. Jimmy Rowles, one of his greatest admirers among fellow pianists, did Wiggins the rare honor of writing the liner notes for one of his albums and said,

Wig is a great natural soloist, besides being a very good accompanist. He doesn’t just play a concert. He uses the approach of telling his story of the song (and sometimes presents it in three or four different ways). And when he hits the rhythm he has perfect time.

In her long obituary, Devra writes:

Wig was always extremely generous in sharing his time and his talents with fellow musicians, especially the younger ones… He loved to share his knowledge with aspiring and seasoned performers alike. Young pros such as pianists Benny Green, Eric Reed, and bassist John Clayton have felt free to call on Wig for advice. Clayton even recommended his bass students to study with Wig, proclaiming him to be “a one-man jazz history lesson.”

To read all of DevraDoWrite‘s Wiggins obit, click here. Wiggins was a favorite accompanist not only of instrumentalists running stylistically from Louis Armstrong to Joe Pass but also of singers including Nat Cole, Dinah Washington, Joe Williams and Helen Humes. With his glasses more often perched atop his head than on his nose and his smile uninterrupted, Wiggins was a frequent presence in Southern California clubs and at jazz concerts and parties.

Concord Records has dropped Gerry Wiggins Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, the 1991 CD that Rowles praised, but it is available here as an MP3 download. In his role as a sideman on this Cal Tjader session from 1956, Wiggins did some of his most relaxed and stimulating playing on record, with Eugene Wright on bass and Bill Douglass on drums. For other Wiggins CDs, go here.

Gerald Wiggins, 1922-2008.

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  1. Ken Dryden says

    I have pleasant memories of hearing Gerald Wiggins at the late lamented Triangle Jazz Party in the mid-1990s. Sure enough, his glasses remained perched on his forehead every time he played.
    Wig was a nice guy who swung effortlessly.

  2. Janie Gust says

    I became familiar with Gerald Wiggins’ music from the movie “Let’s Make Love” starring Yves Montand and Marilyn Monroe. His work was outstanding.
    In fact, the CD soundtrack from the movie gave him sole credit for the movie’s three instrumental tracks: Strip City; Latin One; and Christmas Eve Waltz. The only other artists who were given credit on that soundtrack were the movie’s featured vocalists: Montand, Monroe, and Frankie Vaughan.
    What a career. What a loss.

  3. Nick Phillips says

    Concord IS still making the music available to all who want to hear it, so I don’t consider it “dropped”. You can download the whole album at, for example. The distribution and delivery method, however, is leaning more and more toward digital and not physical CD these days, as there are fewer and fewer retail stores stocking CDs, especially the deep jazz catalog titles like this one, and there are additional costs to continuing to keep an album available in the physical CD format (manufacturing minimum reorder quantity and cost, warehousing costs, shipping costs, returns from retailers, etc.)
    [Mr. Phillips is Concord’s vice president of jazz and catalog A&R — DR]

  4. Marla Kleman says

    Wig’s passing is a huge loss, as he was a one of a kind musician and person. I feel honored to have heard him many times and also have some wonderful memories of fun times and many laughs. I’d also like to point folks to one of my favorite Wig recordings, which was made with the late and soulful bassist (and Wig’s soulmate), Andy Simpkins and the wonderful and creative drummer, Paul Humphrey. It is called “Soulidarity” on the Concord label. Tough to find, but worth the search.
    Wig last released recording was a labor of love with his son, Hassan J.J. Wiggins Shakur, and the always swinging Joe LaBarbera on some of the tracks. It is titled “Wiggins and Wiggins.”
    I’m not sure where you can find “Soulidarity;” maybe at Concord’s website, but Wiggins and Wiggins is available at
    He will be missed by many and there is going to be a celebration of Wig’s life in Los Angeles at the Nate Holden Theatre on July 28.
    ( lists “Soulidarity” at: –DR)