Ernest Brooks Wilkins Jr. was born on July 20, 1922 in St. Louis, Missouri. In his early career he played in a military band, before joining Earl Hines’s last big band. By 1951 he began working with Count Basie but after four years, in 1955 he began freelancing as a jazz arranger and writer of songs and was much in demand at that time.
By the Sixties Ernie’s success declined but revived after working with Clark Terry. This led to his touring Europe and his eventual settling in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he would live for the rest of his life. There he formed the Almost Big Band so he could write for a band of his own. The idea was partly inspired by his wife Jenny as the city had a thriving jazz scene with several promising jazz musicians as well as an established community of expatriate American jazz musicians that formed in the 1950s and included Kenny Drew and Ed Thigpen who joined the band along with Danish saxophonist Jesper Thilo.
The band released four albums, but after 1991 he became too ill to do much with it. He was responsible for orchestral arrangements on 1972’s self-titled album by Alice Clark, on Mainstream Records, that is a highly sought-after collectible today. He has a street named after him in southern Copenhagen, Ernie Wilkins Vej.
Tenor saxophonist, arranger and songwriter Ernie Wilkins, who wrote for Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Dizzy Gillespie, in addition to being the musical director for albums by Cannonball Adderley, Dinah Washington, Oscar Peterson, and Buddy Rich, passed away on June 5, 1999 of a stroke in Copenhagen.
Gary McFarland was born in Los Angeles, California on October 23, 1933. An influential composer, arranger, vibraphonist and vocalist, he made a name for himself on Verve and Impulse Records during the Sixties, making one of the more significant contributors to orchestral jazz. He attained a small following after working with Bill Evans, Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Hodges, John Lewis, Stan Getz, Bob Brookmeyer and Anita O’Day.
His debut as a leader came in 1961 with the Jazz Version of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Gary recorded for Skye, Buddah and Cobblestone Records through the 1960s into the early Seventies. As well as eighteen of his own albums as a leader and arrangements for other musicians such as Lena Horne, Steve Kuhn, Gabor Szabo, John Lewis, Shirley Scott, Zoot Sims and Gary Burton, he composed the scores to the films Eye of the Devil in 1968 and Who Killed Mary What’s ‘Er Name in 1971.
By the end of the 1960s McFarland was moving away from jazz towards an often wistful or melancholy style of instrumental pop, as well as producing the recordings of other artists on his Skye Records label, run in partnership with Szabo and Cal Tjader until its bankruptcy in 1970.
Gary McFarland and Louis Savary wrote the classic song Sack Full Of Dreams that was first released by Grady Tate in 1968. He was considering a move into writing and arranging for film and stage when on November 3, 1971 he was poisoned with methadone in a New York City bar at the tender age of 38. In tribute Bill Evans performed Gary’s Waltz in 1979, shortly before his own death.
Bob Florence was born on May 20, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. He began taking piano lessons at five and initially intended to be a concert pianist. His direction changed when he was exposed to jazz while attending Los Angeles City College.
At the beginning of his career Bob worked as a pianist and arranger with Dave Pell. He went on to found his first band in the late 1950s, working with, amongst others, Herb Geller, Bud Shank, Frank Capp and Enevoldsen.
Florence later participated in big band projects in the Los Angeles area, working mainly with session musicians and as an accompanist to various singers. Throughout his career he worked as an arranger for Harry James, Louis Bellson, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Count Basie and Doc Severinsen.
In 2000, Florence won a Grammy for Best Large Ensemble Performance. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California on May 15, 2008 at the age of 75.
Matso Limtiaco was born May 2, 1963 and majored in music education as an undergraduate. After a brief period teaching public school music, he earned his MA in music theory/composition at Washington State University in 1990. After spending six years teaching music at all levels from junior high band to university jazz ensembles, arranging music for groups he led and for a variety of local performers.
Limtiaco gained his first notoriety as a marching band arranger for Washington State University, and then for the University of Washington. Matso quit teaching music full-time and is active as a freelance composer, arranger, and performer in the Seattle area. His baritone saxophone work has anchored the Emerald City Jazz Orchestra saxophone section since 1994, and the band’s two recordings “Alive and Swinging” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” feature his charts.
After spending several years in music education, he left teaching and now works as an independent composer/arranger, with a “day job” as a technical writer for a large manufacturing company. Among jazz arrangers and composers Matso is not the most well-known nor the most prolific but he rapidly established himself as one of the most polished and professional writers anywhere.
Henry Mancini was born Enrico Nicola Mancini on April 16, 1924 in the Little Italy neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio and was raised in the steel town of West Aliquippa near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began piccolo lessons at age eight, by 12 began piano lessons and played flute in the Aliquippa Italian immigrant band, “Sons of Italy”. After graduating from high school he went to Juilliard School of Music and after one year of study was drafted into the Army, where in 1945 was part of the liberation force of a southern Germany concentration camp.
After the war years Mancini entered the music industry as a pianist and arranger for the newly re-formed Glenn Miller Orchestra. He went on to broaden his skills in composition, counterpoint, harmony and orchestration during subsequent studies. By 1952 he joined the Universal Pictures music department and over the next six years contributed music to over 100 movies, most notably The Glenn Miller Story, The Benny Goodman Story, Touch of Evil and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It was also during this period that he wrote his first hit single for Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians titled I Won’t Let You Out of My Heart.
Henry left Universal International to work as an independent composer and arranger in 1958 and soon scored the television series Peter for writer and producer Blake Edwards. This was the genesis of a relationship in which Edwards and Mancini collaborated on 30 films over 35 years and was one of several pioneers introducing jazz elements in the late romantic orchestral film and TV scoring prevalent at the time.
Mancini’s scored film songs Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses, The Pink Panther, A Time For Us, Baby Elephant Walk, and the Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet as well as many TV shows and movies such as the Thorn Birds, Peter Gunn and Remington Steele. Among his many singers he worked with frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Julie London, Peggy Lee among a host of others. He recorded over 90 albums, eight certified gold by the RIAA, a twenty-year contract with RCA that culminated in 60 commercial albums. Many of his songs have become jazz standards, most notably, Charade, Moment To Moment, Two For The Road, Love Story, Slow Hot Wind, Moonlight Sonata, The Pink Panther, The Days of Wine and Roses and Moon River.
Composer, arranger and conductor Henry Mancini died of pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles, California on June 14, 1994. He was working at the time on the Broadway stage version of Victor/Victoria, which he never saw on stage. Mancini was nominated for an unprecedented 72 Grammys, winning 20; nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning four; won a Golden Globe Award, nominated for two Emmys, was posthumously Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and honored with a 37 cent postage stamp in 2004.