Anthony Wilson

By Levy, Adam | Guitar Player, September 1998 | Go to article overview

Anthony Wilson


Levy, Adam, Guitar Player


When you think of guitarists playing in big bands, a few archetypes come to mind. There was the great Freddie Green, whose acoustic rhythm guitar powered the legendary Count Basie band. There was Charlie Christian, who made a handful of groundbreaking electric guitar recordings with Benny Goodman between 1939 and 1941. And there was Wes Montgomery, whose classic Verve albums set the standard for modern big band jazz guitar.

Anthony Wilson doesn't fit any of those molds. The 29-year-old guitarist is closest in musical spirit to Montgomery, but there is a substantial difference that sets Wilson apart from Montgomery and the others: He arranges all of the music for his nine-piece jazz ensemble himself. And Wilson is not just putting a few saxophone riffs here and there to serve as backgrounds for his solos--he's a serious composer/arranger whose heavyweight writing chops earned him first prize in the 1995 BMI/Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Composers competition. Wilson sees writing as a way to extend his musical vision beyond the limits of the guitar. "There are certain things I hear that I can't get at on the guitar--particular voicings and contrapuntal ideas," he says.

Wilson's 1997 debut album Anthony Wilson [MAMA] is a solid, swinging record that showcases his Montgomery- and Burrell-inspired guitar lines, as well as his aptitude for composing in a variety of styles. Every song sounds different, from the swaggering funk of "Fargas Shuffle" to the gorgeous ballad "Leila," to the dark waltz "Monsignor." Looking back on the release, Wilson muses that perhaps the album covered too much ground: "It was my first record as a leader, so I wanted to show all of the things I could do."

His second album, Goat Hill Junket [MAMA], is more focused. "I wanted to make a record that would hang together better as a whole," says Wilson. "I also wanted to write a little bit prettier and simpler. I wanted to write tunes that people Could hum and remember."

Wilson's compositional approach isn't the only thing that has changed on his new record. His guitar has taken on a new, bigger and bolder tone. "We did a couple of things differently this time," he reveals. "The main difference is the guitar itself. I had been using a '63 Gibson ES-345. It's a good instrument, but I wasn't totally satisfied with it. For Goat Hill Junket, I used a '58 Byrdland, and that guitar changed everything. It had exactly what I wanted: a little bit of that traditional hollowbody sound, but with a really meaty electric tone. …

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