DevraDoWrite reports that Gerald Wiggins died this morning in Los Angeles at the age of eighty-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.