This terrific and too-little known album comes from the terrific and too-little known pianist Jack Wilson (1936-2007). Wilson, born in Chicago, Illinois, studied music in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, then joined a local band at age 14. While attending Indiana University, Wilson gigged with Dave Baker and Slide Hampton before moving onto Columbus, Ohio, where he formed his own trio and played around with Roland Kirk. Wilson recorded and toured with Dinah Washington in 1956 and 1957 before moving to Chicago where he played with Sonny Stitt, Johnny Griffin, Richard Evans and Gene Ammons.
Wilson returned to Dinah Washington’s band in 1961 and was convinced by Buddy Collete to move to Los Angeles in 1962, where he found plenty of work in the bands of Gerald Wilson (Moment of Truth, Portraits, The Golden Sword, Everywhere, etc.), Nancy Wilson (Yesterday’s Love Songs…Today’s Blue, Today, Tomorrow, Forever),Julie London (Feeling Good), Buddy Collette, Harold Land, Curtis Amy (Katanga), Earl Anderza (Outta Sight) and Roy Ayers (West Coast Vibes).
By the time of this 1965 album, pianist Jack Wilson had already waxed two capable albums of elegant pianistic facility for Atlantic (The Jack Wilson Quartet Featuring Roy Ayers, 1963, and The Two Sides of Jack Wilson, 1964, both of which have found life on CD, as well as an album or two worth of unissued music) and one for the Atlantic subsidiary, Vault (The Jazz Organs. 1965).
This brilliantly conceived program, recorded on July 30, 1965, in Los Angeles, for the fledging Vault label, mixes two of jazz’s biggest influences of the time, bossa nova and the wondrously melodic and timeless tunes of composer Henry Mancini, to confirm critic Harvey Pekar’s assertion that Jack Wilson “displays excellent technique, a firm touch and a fruitful imagination.”
Despite the scandalous brevity of the program (about 24 minutes), Wilson really does come up with something special here.
Again partnered with bandmate Roy Ayers on vibes, Wilson combines forces with Brazilians Sebastião Neto (Bossa Três, João Donato, Sergio Mendes, Paul Winter, Bud Shank) on bass, Chico Batera (Sergio Mendes, Bud Shank, J.T. Meirelles, The Doors, Cat Stevens) on drums and one “Tom Brazil” on guitar.
Tom Brazil is a pseudonym for none other than the great Antonio Carlos Jobim, forced to use the moniker as so many others were at the time due to weird “contractual obligations” of the record industry (Jobim had just signed with Warner Bros. Records at the time this record was made and while Warners would probably have loved to trumpet Jobim’s presence on the album, had they known about it at the time, the producers probably wouldn’t haven’t been able to afford Jobim’s presence).
Wilson covers the quieter shades of Mancini’s melodic repertoire here, those that lend themselves especially to the more romantic, dreamier sides of the bossa nova, including a lot of Mr. Lucky (“Mr. Lucky,” “Blue Satin,” “Softly” and “Night Flower”) , the exotic and lovely “Lujon” (aka “Slow Hot Wind,” originally heard on the Mancini LP Mr. Lucky Goes Latin), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Sally’s Tomato”), “The Days of Wine And Roses” (from the 1962 Blake Edwards film) and “Dear Heart” (from the 1965 Delbart Mann film).
While it never lapses into George Shearing Quintet territory, it’s a beautiful exposition that one wishes could go on much, much longer. Unfortunately, the playing time allows for very little improvisation, which is fine. But it forces the listener to consider the value of the conception which is never less than lovely. And these players seem to relish the beautiful music Mancini has provided to them. They don’t get verbose or witty as much as they honor the Brazilian and the Mancini of their mission.
Roy Ayers’s vibes highlight rather than mimic Wilson’s piano lines (and sometimes, as on “Days of Wine And Rose” and “Lujon,” it’s the other way around). And Jobim is happy enough to play acoustic rhythm guitar over some of the changes that are as fascinating as he constructed in his own equally memorable melodies. Jobim even carries the melody on the album’s finale, “Night Flower.”
According to radio personality Johnny “The Host Who Loves You The Most” Magnus, the album’s liner note writer, “As for the individual tunes, even Hank Mancini hasn’t any one favorite. He too digs the totality of the album.” Mancini wasn’t the type to dismiss anything out of hand, least of all such beautiful tributes as this.
But he, like me, could probably have hoped for a little something more from an album called Brazilian Mancini featuring Jobim – perhaps more tunes, more improvisation or just more of the beauty found within.
Wilson went onto record Ramblin’ (Vault, 1966 – also with Roy Ayers) and three excellent Blue Note classics (Something Personal, 1966, Easterly Winds, 1967, and Song For My Daughter, 1968 – there was also an unissued live set recorded for the label), During the 1970s, Wilson maintained a low-key status but he could be heard sporadically playing behind Esther Phillips and made several appearances on the singer’s albums from this period (Burnin’: Live at Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper, LA, From A Whisper To A Scream).
Jack Wilson went back to doing occasional sideman jobs (Lorez Alexandria, Eddie Harris, Tutti Cameratta, Clark Terry) before reappearing on the Discovery label for several albums in the late 70s and then on his final album, In New York for DIW in 1993.
For someone of Jack Wilson’s talent and creativity, there is a surprising vacuum of recording after 1968 and, sadly, a resultant lack of material readily accessible now in the digital age.