Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American MusicEdward Berger
Foreword by Wynton Marsalis
Trumpeter Joe Wilder is distinguished for his achievements in both the jazz and classical worlds. He was a founding member of the Symphony of the New World, where he played first trumpet, and he performed as lead trumpet and soloist with Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Lunceford, Dizzy Gillespie, and Count Basie. Yet Wilder is also known as a pioneer who broke down racial barriers, the first African American to hold a principal chair in a Broadway show orchestra, and one of the first African Americans to join a network studio orchestra.
In Softly, with Feeling, Edward Berger tells Wilder's remarkable story from his youth in working-class Philadelphia and his apprenticeship in the big bands, to his experience as one of the first 1,000 black Marines during World War II, and his achievements in the worlds of jazz, classical, and popular music. Reminiscences by Wilder and his colleagues, including renowned Philadelphia-area musicians Jimmy Heath and Buddy DeFranco help place Wilder's experiences within a broader context of American musical and social history.
Wilder's modesty and ability to perform in many musical genres may have prevented him from achieving popular recognition, but in Softly, with Feeling, his legacy and contributions to music and culture are assured.
"You hear a brilliant and concise trumpet solo in the most unlikely of places, on a '50s cast album or vocal date, and it happens so often you gradually stop being surprised to find you've just heard Joe Wilder. He’s been everywhere in music over the last 60-plus years, and in Softly, with Feeling , Ed Berger has given this exemplary figure (a self-effacing racial pioneer as well as an impeccable musician) the exemplary biography he deserves." —Francis Davis, author of Jazz and Its Discontents: A Francis Davis Reader
"Softly, with Feeling is a major contribution to the literature of jazz, and the history of race relations in twentieth-century America. Berger sheds light on many infrequently examined aspects of the music world: not just jazz, but classical, radio, TV, recording and Broadway, education, and even the military. The overused word ‘unique’ does apply to Joe Wilder’s remarkable life and multi-faceted career. It has been described here in all its fascinating detail and with first-rate research and interviews. The strength of Softly, with Feeling is in the way it reflects, step by step, the talent, determination and strength of character of Joe Wilder, a truly admirable human being." —Dan Morgenstern, retired Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University-Newark, and author of Living with Jazz
"Writer/photographer Berger's approach in this biography encompasses not only Wilder's career, but also offers a vivid and well-researched depiction of both jazz and Broadway orchestras and a picture of the unheralded musician that is fascinating reading.... Berger's highly readable account is clearly an overdue testament to the performer's skills and accomplishments. VERDICT: (T)his wonderful book should be read by anyone interested in jazz or classical music; it belongs in every library." — Library Journal
"Berger realized that Wilder had an important story to tell, and the result is a superb biography, Softly, With Feeling , which contrasts Wilder’s enormous breakthroughs and his humble demeanor.... There’s little doubt that Berger’s elegantly-written biography will raise awareness of this important but underappreciated jazz giant." —Jazz History Online
"Edward Berger atones for what he sees as America's failure to fully recognize the trumpeter's talents with a full-scale biography of the kind we don't often get--that of an unfamous person. lt reminds us that fame comes with long odds attached, but that the music profession offers many midlevel tiers in which a great player can sustain a rewarding career for decades without dealing with autograph hounds.... Berger interviewed his subject at great length, permitting Wilder to tell much of his own story. His candidness is refreshing.... ln Berger's account...musicianship and character exist in an intimate symbiosis." —Downbeat
"Wilder met discrimination because of his race, of course, many times during his lifetime, but he held to his principles of ethical behavior never stooping to the level of some of his detractors. And, as Berger so well documents, Wilder’s ground-breaking achievements led the way for many others." —The Jazz Society of Pensacola