Ernie Wilkins

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NYC July 6, 1976

Ernest Brooks Wilkins Jr. (July 20, 1922 – June 5, 1999) was a jazz arranger and writer who also played tenor saxophone. He might be best known for his work with Count Basie. He also wrote for Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Dizzy Gillespie. In addition to that 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. In 1951 he began working with Basie. After 1955 he went free-lance as a jazz arranger and writer of songs as he was much in demand at that time. His success declined in the 1960s, but revived after work with Clark Terry. This led to his touring 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.

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


As sideman/arranger[edit]

With Count Basie

With Louis Bellson

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Joe Newman

As 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

With Quincy Jones

With Sam Jones

With Charles McPherson

With Joe Newman

With Sarah Vaughan and the Count Basie Orchestra

With Charles Williams