On this day of July 1922, we celebrate the birthday of one of the best tenor saxophone players in the world. Ernest Brooks Wilkins Jr. was an African-American song writer and a jazz arranger who was also an extremely talented tenor saxophone player. He was a musical sensation who also wrote for Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and Dizzy Gillespie. Along with writing so much about music, he was also the musical director for famous albums by Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderley, Buddy Rich and Oscar Peterson.
Wilkins was born on July 20, 1922, in St Louis, Missouri. Since childhood, he always showed great passion for music, and after growing up, he attained what he always wanted. In his early days of music, he joined the army military band and used to play music along the group. He also worked with Earl Hines’s last big band and Count Basie for some intense music sessions. Wilkins always wanted to play with big and famous bands and got an opportunity to work as a fixture artist with the American jazz scene until 1979. Later, he pulled up his stakes and traveled to Europe.
After his voyage to Europe, he learned violin and piano. He then started his professional music education at the Wilberforce University before joining the Navy during the war season. In 1948, he caught up with Earl Hines band and worked on sharp music around the area of St. Louis and later joined Basie band in 1952. He remained with Basie’s for around four years from 1952 to 1955 and made some good musical history. Other than all this, he always performed freelance musical arrangements to the Count and also performed with Dizzy Gillespie band and made a great tour to Europe and the Middle East in 1956.
Ernie Wilkins was the one who wrote three of the six movements of the so exciting Wilkins/Manny Albam The Drum Suite (RCA Victor) and was supposedly the first musician to integrate four different drums into a single band. He led many albums of big bands under his name for Savoy and Everest in the 1950’s. In 1968, he joined the famous Clark Terry’s Big B-A-D Band and served as their music director and composer. Wilkins continued to provide his services to the band Basie and ultimately settled in Copenhagen in 1979 where he formed his dream band Almost Big. Sadly, Wilkins died on June 5, 1999, in Copenhagen, Denmark due to a severe stroke.