The world of music can be full of wonderful discoveries and surprises and this is certainly true when I encountered the name John Wilson for the first time. This was in 1997 with the release of an ASV CD devoted to lesser known compositions by that master of melody and superb orchestrator, Eric Coates, played by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by John Wilson.
I don’t like anything in the Orchestral Jazz album so above, once again, is John and Orchestra playing from Soft Lights and Sweet Music (Vocalion, 2002) the Angela Morley arrangement of Johnny Mandel’s tender song written for screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky’s satire on war and politics, (The Americanization of)”Emily”.
The thing I first noticed first about this disc was the total commitment of the interpretations. A year later, a second volume appeared also devoted to the delightful compositions of Eric Coates. Once again I was struck by the deep understanding and respect show to these often unfamiliar scores, something which isn’t always the cast when this music is performed by orchestras and conductors who just do not seem to understand the idiom.
A little later I learnt that John was preparing a complete edition of the works of Eric Coates, so no wonder he is so completely “inside” this lovely music.
Born in Gateshead in 1972, John Wilson studied composition and conducting at the Royal College of Music, where he graduated in 1995 winning all the main prizes, and also where he was awarded the prestigious Tagore Gold Medal, the highest award attainable by a student at the college.
In 1996 John formed The Sinfonia of Westminster, a group comprised of the pick of the outstanding musicians from leading soloists and chamber groups. But John also enjoys a parallel career conducting The John Wilson Orchestra, which is comprised of young musicians devoted to keeping alive the music of The Great American Songbook, including arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Robert Farnon, Paul Weston and Conrad Salinger. The orchestra has given concerts in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall to great acclaim. He also appears regularly at Pizza in the Park and is the youngest conductor to broadcast on Radio 2’s long running Friday Night Is Music Night programme. John is also a prolific arranger himself, producing numerous orchestrations for film and television and he was also responsible for arranging all the music for the Hong Kong handover celebrations. The first two CDs to appear featuring The John Wilson Orchestra come from two different labels. The first one from Velvetone comprises 19 titles recorded at the CTS Studios in Wembley in 1998. Sarah Moule is the sensitive vocalist on eight tracks including “I Concentrate on You” and “Words Can’t Describe”, a little-known song once recorded by Sarah Vaughan. The rest is all orchestral, my favourites being “Skyliner” and “Cherokee”, both arranged by Neil Richardson, and Bob Farnon’s superb reworking of David Raksin’s classic “Laura”, which for me is worth the price of the disc alone!
John’s most recent CD is a first from Michael Dutton’s Vocalion Digital label. Previously this label has concentrated on re-issues of classic dance band and jazz recordings. They are now embarking on a series of original recordings made specially for the label, and John’s CD Orchestral Jazz is included in the first release. Using 24 strings, 4 winds, 5 rhythm and piano, this disc sounds superb and no wonder, featuring as it does on Richard Rodney Bennett playing piano on 4 tracks and providing arrangements for 8 tracks including “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, “Lush Life” and “Melancholy Baby”.
The remaining arrangements are shared between John himself and Neil Richardson.
Listen out for Ian Moffat’s superb trombone, also Enrico Tomasso on trumpet and Luke Annesley doubling on sax and clarinet. This issue should be snapped up by all who enjoy the very best in orchestral jazz. If you enjoy Nelson Riddle’s recordings then you should love this CD.
One wonders what the future has in store for John Wilson. Personally I would welcome a disc devoted to the music of Robert Farnon, and what about a CD of the great arrangements of the unsung hero of MGM musicals, Conrad Salinger. But whatever, the name John Wilson will ensure that the great music of the twentieth century will be kept alive, played and presented superbly by a young master interpreter. ~Phil Suffolk
- “The Story So Far, with Conductor John Wilson”
- “The Story So Far; Or, Conductor John Wilson—His Limits”
- Kindle ebook of my Hollywood comedy-mystery COLD OPEN here.
- Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.
- Free pdf of my memoir re the Gyllenhaals A POET FROM HOLLYWOOD here.