Written by David Lyon from National Public Radio
Pianist Gerald Wiggins, known best as an accompanist and trio leader for many years in the Los Angeles area, died in July 2008. In this rebroadcast from 1992, Piano Jazz remembers the jazz piano master.
Born in 1922 in Harlem, N.Y., Wiggins began learning classical piano at a young age. He was a student at New York City’s High School of Music and Art when he began to fall in love with the music of Teddy Wilson and, later, Art Tatum. Wiggins talked about some of his early professional gigs with the big bands of Benny Carter and Les Hite, as well as his “first big job” playing for comedian Stepin Fetchit. He also conjures up two tunes from the early days of his career: Sammy Cahn’s “If It’s the Last Thing I Do” and a Wiggins original with the curious title “Edie Is a Sweetie.”
Wiggins eventually settled in L.A., where host Marian McPartland caught up with him in 1992. A versatile pianist and arranger, Wiggins was a natural in his various jobs at Hollywood movie studios. As he tells McPartland, working at the studios often meant ghostwriting without being credited. However, the job had perks that other gigs did not –- like working as a rehearsal pianist and vocal coach for Marilyn Monroe. In fact, Wiggins gained a positive reputation among singers as a skillful accompanist, and he worked with vocal luminaries such as Lena Horne, Kay Starr, Eartha Kitt and Pearl Bailey.
Coincidentally, Wiggins and McPartland share the distinction of being volumes 8 and 9, respectively, in Concord Records’ series of piano solo recitals at Maybeck Hall. Wiggins performs a swinging blues from that recording: Ahmad Jamal’s “Night Mist.” McPartland follows with a solo of her own, “Please Be Kind.” The two wind up the hour with a duet on “Now’s the Time.”
Originally recorded Jan. 24, 1992.