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R.I.P. Abram Wilson (1973 - 2012).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ian Mann's thoughts on the tragically early loss of trumpeter, composer, vocalist, actor and educator Abram Wilson.

R.I.P Abram Wilson (30th August1973 ? 9th June 2012)

It came as a great shock to learn of the death of trumpeter, composer, vocalist, actor and educator Abram Wilson at the age of only thirty eight. He had been diagnosed with cancer and married his partner Jennie Cashman the day before his death.

Wilson’s passing seems to have have taken the jazz community completely by surprise. The many comments already received in response to the news on Sebastian Scotney’s London Jazz Blog suggest that hardly anybody knew he was ill. Wilson continued to work almost until the end and played his last gig at Teignmouth in Devon on May 24th 2012.

Originally from New Orleans Wilson moved to London in 2002 and quickly established himself on the UK jazz scene signing to the Dune record label. I first saw him play in 2004, leading his band as part of an in store promotion during London Jazz Festival week around the time of the release of his d?but UK recording ?Jazz Warrior?.

A couple of years later at Cheltenham Jazz Festival I was fortunate enough to witness the d?but performance of Wilson’s festival commission ?Ride! Ferris Wheel To The Modern day Delta?, an ambitious work combining jazz, blues and hip hop in a modern day parable with Wilson and his musical colleagues also playing the part of characters in the libretto. Here Wilson also proved himself to be a more than capable vocalist and a studio version of this hugely successful project was subsequently released by Dune in 2007.

The success of ?Ferris Wheel? saw Wilson extending his talents to acting. In 2008 he appeared in Tarell McCraney’s play ?The Red and Brown Water? and in 2009 he played two roles in director Tim Supple’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s ?As You Like It?.

However he will be best remembered as a magnificent trumpeter and his 2009 album ?Life Paintings?, an entirely instrumental recording made with a core quartet featuring Peter Edwards at the piano, Karl Rasheed-Abel on bass and Graham Godfrey at the drums offered more than ample evidence of his abilities. The recording is reviewed elsewhere on this site and for me is Wilson’s most satisfying album release, a real flagship for his talents as a trumpeter.

It’s remarkable to think that Wilson was still playing brilliantly only a few weeks before his death. On May 8th 2012 he played a superb set with a hand picked octet at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, one of the festival highlights. Wilson had been commissioned to make jazz arrangements of folk melodies from around the world as part of a suite commemorating the 2012 Olympic Games. His trumpeting was as stylish and ebullient as ever, his arrangements colourful and imaginative and his between tunes announcements warm, witty and informative. It’s hard to believe that he could have been ill, even harder to believe that so soon after he has gone.
It is a shame to think that he will never get the chance to record this wonderful music and it’s also unfortunate that this concert wasn’t one of those selected by the BBC for broadcast (unless they’ve got it on a tape somewhere- we can but hope).

I’ve met many musicians since starting this site but unfortunately Wilson wasn’t one of them. I’d hoped to rectify this later in the year when he was due to bring his quartet to The Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock, one of my favourite venues and ironically one with strong Olympic links. Sadly now I will never get the chance to tell him how much I have enjoyed his music over the years. Despite not knowing Abram personally I still feel a profound sense of loss.

Wilson’s recorded legacy is small but perhaps he made the biggest impression with his educational work. He was always keen to work with children and young musicians and had hosted a family show at Cheltenham just before his ?Olympic Commission? appearance. Once again the comments on Sebastian Scotney’s site attest to the high regard with which his educational work was held. Always a big personality he exuded warmth and encouragement and was clearly a big inspiration to aspiring younger musicians. My mate Paul Mapp spoke of witnessing Wilson hosting a trumpet master-class in one of the foyers of the South Bank Centre during the London Jazz Festival and commented on just how good he was with both children and young adults, relaxed and patient but subtly challenging them to improve their playing and develop musically. There can be no doubt that his presence has greatly enriched the British music scene these last ten years.

Rest In Peace, Abram and thank you for everything.