Don Wilson, 76, police officer, jazz musician

Don Wilson

Don Wilson was a noted jazz musician and retired Philadelphia police officer.

Wilson died May 17, 2012, at Chestnut Hill Hospital. He was 76.

He was born April 4, 1936, in Philadelphia.

His family said he was a musical genius and was often referred to as “maestro” because of his great musical abilities and keen sense of tone. He was able to play any song upon request and his playing would make the worst singer sound good.

Wilson was always interested in arranging and rearranging music from gospel in church to classics, to jazz and popular music. He began playing piano at an early age.

In addition to playing the piano, Wilson began studying trumpet with the renowned Ed Wynne and Sigmund Herring. Later he studied with Tony Marcione and Danny Forlono.

Wilson’s interest in writing, arranging and composition continued to flourish. He studied with Denny Sandoli and Jack Ebbert. He began writing for small recording groups as well as playing with the Tommy Monroe Big Band and others. The members of this band included great names including John Splawn, Johnny Coles, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Bobby Timons, Albert (Tootie) Health, Reggie Workman, Archie Shepp and many others. He also backed many musicians who played in the Philadelphia area and needed a rhythm section, including Sonny Stitt, Paul Quientetche, Art Farmer, Dizzy Reese and Harold Vick.

Wilson started his own big-band which played concerts and performed at dances and special recitals with his original compositions and arrangements from 1975 and well into the 1980s.

The big-band played social and private affairs from New York to Washington, D.C., and performed in many of the Atlantic City casinos including Harrah’s, Bally’s, Showboat Resorts and the Golden Nugget.

Wilson was the musical director of the Philadelphia Clef Club. He also led the Clef Club Band in Philadelphia’s Department of Recreation concerts. He arranged and conducted the band through a series of concerts and performances.

During the 1990s, while serving as the Clef Club’s music director and conductor of the big-band, Wilson arranged and conducted a series of concerts featuring Jimmy Heath, Benny Godson, Toshiko Akiyoshi and James Moody — all giant composers and performers in the jazz world.

Wilson was employed for more than 23 years as a Philadelphia police officer. For 18 years, he played trumpet in the police and firemen’s concert and marching band. He also played piano for the “Police Pastimers,” a group created to represent the police department and the city of Philadelphia at many important functions.

He also taught jazz, piano techniques and improvisation at Temple University, two days a week. One of his greatest loves was teaching advanced piano and music theory, and arranging at the Mount Airy Cultural Center, Inc. (MACC), a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the study and appreciation of jazz music to youth and young adults on Saturday mornings.

Wilson received many awards for his musical accomplishments and was a member of the Optimist Club International. He could be found at LaRose Jazz Club on Monday nights playing with the Tony Williams Trio and on Thursday evenings playing at the Prime Rib Restaurant located in the Radisson Warwick Hotel in Center City, Philadelphia.

His family said Wilson was a delight to all who knew him. He had the ability to make everyone feel special and always took the time to work with musicians of all ages, providing all an opportunity to play and showcase their talents, his family said.

Wilson is survived by his wife, Jackie (Billman) and two sisters, Alice Womack and Ursula Hendricks.

Services will be held May 24 at the Kirk & Nice Funeral Home, 80 Stenton Avenue, Plymouth Meeting, Pa. Viewing will be 8 a.m. Services will follow at 10. Burial will be in Rolling Green Memorial Park.

In lieu of flowers, it is requested that donations be made to the Mount Airy Cultural Center of Philadelphia.

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