|Talk about a career in jazz, Wilson’s first album as a leader was released in 1961 and his last recording was released in 2011.|
First hearing the big band sound of Gerald Wilson was a revelation. Talk about a career in jazz, Wilson played trumpet in the Jimmie Lunceford Band back in 1936. A mainstay of West Coast jazz players, he wandered in and out of the limelight for 50 years, his first album as a leader, You Better Believe It being released in 1961. He died in 2014 at age 96, with his last recording, Legacy, released in 2011.
It was a pleasant surprise to discover that he was not only a big fan of the bullfight, but many of his signature works (two of which are reprised on “Detroit” from 2009) are named after famous bullfighters of the 1960s. He considered matadors and jazz musicians to be kindred spirits engaged in a similar kind of art form.
Wilson was befriended by bullfighting professionals and is an honorary life member of Los Aficionados de Los Angeles (sort of like the Bullfighter’s Union of the U.S). The complete oeuvre of Wilson’s tributes to the corrida is listed below. I deliberately chose to only include the original of each song, and encourage you to check out some of the later versions on your own.
This song is named for Jose Ramon Tirado. “He was a young matador I first saw at the bullfights in Tijuana, Mexico,” Gerald says. “He was sensational, had a lot of style, reminds me of one of the young trumpeters today. I was so impressed that I wanted to do my impression jazz-wise of what was going on with him.”
This song is named for Paco Camino. “Paco Camino became the biggest man in the bull ring during that period. He came on with some new stuff that was out of sight. Bullfighting is not a sport, you know. It’s an art, continually evolving with new passes, new uses of the cape, new ways of confronting the bull, adding to the repertoire. It’s very much like jazz. Paco was an artist. He improvised. He was the best,” said Wilson in 2004.
Featured in Sports Illustrated in 1963, ” Paco Camino is the greatest torero of the past 20 years,” said Antonio Diaz-Canabate, one of Spain’s foremost authorities, writing in Madrid’s influential newspaper, the A.B.C. “He leads the bull with the muleta where the bull does not want to go. That is the most difficult thing in the art of bullfighting because it involves the total domination of man over beast.” And a well-known Barcelona critic, Jose Maria Hernandez, wrote of Camino, “He does everything to perfection. He has an indefinable magic. People will remember Camino, like Manolete, not for any one pass or quality, but for his general art and technique.”
This song is named for Santiago Martín, known as El Viti. This is the only recording Wilson made where he played with the band. “El Viti was a great matador, different from any other I ever saw. He never smiled, and he was tough. I tried to trace a picture of him, as it gets down into a unique part where his stuff in the ring would get, wild but not overbearing. It was a place for me to use my eight-part harmony.” Wilson claimed to invent eight-part harmony. El Viti was considered to be the “master of the Verónica.”
The Golden Sword
Dedicated to the pageantry of the bullring.
This song is named for Carlos Arruza, known as “El Ciclón” (“the cyclone”). Retiring after a successful career bullfighting on foot, he came back to start an even more spectacular career on horseback. “He was one of the greatest of all time,” said Wilson. Arruza appeared in two Mexican films about bullfighting and had a part in the 1960 version of “The Alamo” starring John Wayne.
This song is named for M. Capetillo, who performed frequently in Tijuana from the 1960s through the 1980s. He was celebrated as the greatest muletero in Mexican bullfight history. Wilson watched Capetillo fight his last bull on the eve of his retirement.
This song is named for Antonio Del Olivar and was the last of Wilson’s tributes to famous bullfighters. Considered one of the most graceful matadors, Del Olivar once honored Wilson by presenting him with the ear of a bull he had killed.