Count Basie Mk. II style of the 1950s, Ernie Wilkins had been a regular fixture on the American jazz scene until 1979, when he pulled up stakes and moved to Europe. He first learned piano and violin, then studied music at Wilberforce University before going into the Navy during the war. He caught on with the Earl Hines band in 1948 and worked around the St. Louis area before joining the Basie band in 1952. He remained in the Basie fold until 1955, but continued to freelance arrangements to the Count, as well as arrange for and perform with the Dizzy Gillespie band that toured the Middle East and South America in 1956. Also in 1956, he wrote three of the six movements of the exciting Wilkins/Manny Albam The Drum Suite (RCA Victor) -- reputedly the first time anyone had tried to integrate four drummers into one band -- and led big band albums under his own name for Savoy and Everest in the 1950s. He was the staff composer for the Harry James orchestra from 1958 to 1960 and served as musical director for albums by Nat Adderley, Sarah Vaughan, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, and Dinah Washington, among others. In 1968, he joined Clark Terry's Big B-A-D Band, serving as a composer and music director, after which he assembled his own band and became head of A&R for the Mainstream label (1971-1973). He would continue to provide Basie with arrangements and toured Europe with Terry in the late '70s, ultimately settling in Copenhagen in 1979, where he formed the Almost Big Band. Most of the recorded examples of Wilkins' work on sax are as a sideman with Basie and Terry.
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