Ernie Wilkins

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Ernie Wilkins
Ernie Wilkins.jpg
New York City, July 6, 1976
Background information
Birth name Ernest Brooks Wilkins Jr.
Born (1922-07-20)July 20, 1922
St. Louis, Missouri
Died June 5, 1999(1999-06-05) (aged 76)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Genres Jazz, big band
Occupation(s) Musician, arranger, composer
Instruments Saxophone
Associated acts Count Basie

Ernest Brooks Wilkins Jr. (July 20, 1922 – June 5, 1999) was an American jazz saxophonist, conductor and arranger who spent several years with Count Basie. He also wrote for Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Dizzy Gillespie. He was musical director for albums by Cannonball Adderley, Dinah Washington, Oscar Peterson, and Buddy Rich.[1]

Early career[edit]

Wilkins was born in St. Louis, Missouri. In his early career he played in a military band, before joining Earl Hines's last big band. He worked with Count Basie from 1951 to 1955, eventually leaving to work free-lance as a jazz arranger and songwriter. His success declined in the 1960s, but revived after work with Clark Terry, leading to a tour of Europe.

Final years in Denmark[edit]

Eventually Wilkins settled in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he would live for the rest of his life.[2] There he formed the Almost Big Band so he could write for a band of his own formation. The idea was partly inspired by his wife Jenny. Copenhagen had a thriving jazz scene with several promising jazz musicians as well as a well-established community of expatriate American jazz musicians which had formed in the 1950s and now included representatives like Kenny Drew and Ed Thigpen who joined the band along with Danish saxophonist Jesper Thilo. The band released four albums, but after 1991 he became too ill to do much with it.[3] He died in Copenhagen.

Wilkins was responsible for orchestral arrangements on 1972's self-titled album by Alice Clark, on Mainstream Records, a highly sought-after collectible today.[citation needed]

Ernie Wilkins died on June 5, 1999 of a stroke.

Awards and honors[edit]

Wilkins has a street named after him in southern Copenhagen, "Ernie Wilkins Vej" (eng. Ernie Wilkins Street).[citation needed]


  • Ernie Wilkins-Kenny Clarke Septet (Savoy, 1955)
  • Flutes & Reeds (Savoy, 1955)
  • Top Brass (Savoy, 1955)
  • Trumpet Album (Savoy, 1955)
  • The Drum Suite (RCA Victor, 1956) with Manny Albam
  • Day In, Day Out (1960)
  • The Big New Band of the '60s (Fresh Sound, 1960)
  • Here Comes the Swingin' Mr. Wilkins (Everest, 1960)
  • Ernie Wilkins & the Almost Big Band (Storyville, 1980)
  • Almost Big Band Live (Matrix Music Marketing, 1981)
  • Live! At the Slukefter Jazz Club (Matrix Music Marketing, 1981)
  • Montreux (SteepleChase, 1983)
  • On the Roll (SteepleChase, 1986)
  • Kaleidoduke (Polygram, 1995)
  • Hard Mother Blues (P-Vine, 2007)
  • Kinda Dukish (Gazell, 2012)[4]

As sideman/arranger[edit]

With Count Basie

With Louis Bellson

With Maynard Ferguson

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Al Grey

With Joe Newman

As composer/arranger[edit]

With Ernestine Anderson

With Count Basie

With Ray Brown

With Jimmy Cleveland

With Al Cohn

With Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis

With Maynard Ferguson

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Freddie Green

With Milt Jackson

With Harry James[5]

  • Wild About Harry! (Capitol T-874/ST-874, 1957)
  • The New James (Capitol T-1037/ST-1037, 1958)
  • Harry's Choice! (Capitol T-1093/ST-1093, 1958)
  • Harry James and His New Swingin' Band (MGM E-3778/SE-3778, 1959)
  • Harry James...Today! (MGM E-3848/SE-3848, 1960)
  • The Spectacular Sound Of Harry James (MGM E-3897/SE-3897, 1961)
  • The Solid Gold Trumpet Of Harry James (MGM E-4058/SE-4058, 1962)
  • Harry James Twenty-fifth Anniversary Album (MGM E-4214/SE-4214, 1964)
  • The King James Version (Sheffield Lab LAB 3, 1976)
  • Comin' From A Good Place (Sheffield Lab LAB 6, 1977)

With Quincy Jones

With Sam Jones

With Charles McPherson

With Joe Newman

With Herb Pomeroy

With Sarah Vaughan and the Count Basie Orchestra

With Dinah Washington

With Charles Williams


  1. ^ Down Beat Magazine Artist Profile
  2. ^ Voce, Steve "Ernie Wilkins" Jazz Institute of Chicago, from an original article in The Independent. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  3. ^ Almost Big Band's website
  4. ^ "Ernie Wilkins | Album Discography | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 27 July 2017. 
  5. ^ Lord, Tom (2013). The Jazz Discography (CD) (14.0 ed.).