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Abram Wilson
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30 August 1973 – 9 June 2012

Trumpeter/ composer/ bandleader / educator/ actor Abram Wilson has died of cancer. He continued performing as long as he could, despite acute pain until his last gig in Teignmouth, Devon on May 24.

Born in Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1975, Abram Wilson was raised along with his four brothers and one sister in New Orleans, Louisiana. The eldest of six children, the entire family including mother, Doris Wilson, and father, Willie C Wilson Jr, had some experience in music. Wilson’s first inspiration and introduction to music was at the age of five when listening to his father play the guitar and to recordings which his father would play. Soon after being bought a snare drum for Christmas, Wilson went on to play drums. At nine, Wilson received his first trumpet and after being taught his first note by his mother, he immediately began learning songs from the radio and developing his own method of ear training.

Starting with his first instructor, Lester Wright, Wilson quickly became the most advanced in the class, surpassing many of the older students. At 13, he began to display the ability to lead, and was elected to front his 75-piece school band as drum major. That same year, Wilson auditioned for the New Orleans Center For Creative Arts (NOCCA), a school specialising in jazz and classical music, among other art forms, and responsible for producing artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr, Donald Harrison, Delfayo Marsalis, and Nicholas Payton, all of whom graduated from the school. Whilst there Wilson studied under the tutelage of Clyde Kerr Jr, Ronald Benko, Dr Burt Breaud, and band director, Augustus Walker at O Perry Walker Sr High School, all of whom would further shape his musical direction and raise it to a new level. In 1991, Wilson graduated from both schools and was ready to take on new parts of the world.

At 17, Wilson was teaching trumpet privately and soon earned a music scholarship to Ohio Wesleyan University. Here, he studied classical trumpet with Larry Griffin and at 22, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music education, qualifying him to teach both choral and instrumental music from kindergarten to college aged students. Wilson went on to study at the world-renowned Eastman Conservatory in Rochester, New York where he attained his masters, studying jazz performance and composition with Ralph Alessi, Mike Cain, and Fred Sturm, and classical trumpet with Barbara Butler. It was also during this time Wilson became closely involved with Young Audiences, an organisation which brought professional artists to schools to perform and conduct workshops for children. Wilson soon found himself performing for groups of up to 250, dealing with subjects like jazz history, groove, music theory, improvisation, and music composition. These workshops proved to be amazingly successful in Rochester, Cleveland and New York and inspired a number of students to pursue careers in music.

Upon graduating from Eastman, Wilson moved to New York where he started his own band incorporating both his vocal and trumpet skills, and continued to promote music education throughout the schools there. By now he was regularly performing with the Roy Hargrove Big Band and with rhythm and blues legend, Ruth Brown, appearing on her “Good Day for the Blues” release in 1999.

Coming to London in 2002, Wilson quickly made links to some of the best artists here and, before long, was booked to appear as part of the Julian Joseph Big Band. A chance meeting with the directors of Dune Records at a jam session at London’s Jazz Café set the wheels in train for Wilson to start working as regular member of various Dune artists’ bands leading to Wilson being signed to the label in late-2003. He appeared and toured with fellow Dune recording artists: Soweto Kinch on the 2003 Mercury/ MOBO Award winning album, “Conversations With The Unseen; with 2002 Mercury/MOBO Award winner, Denys Baptiste on “Let Freedom Ring!” with soul-jazz vocalist, Juliet Roberts; and the award-winning jazz/ska big band, Jazz Jamaica All Stars.

As well as being an excellent trumpeter, Wilson was also an excellent singer/songwriter whose voice was a finely wrought instrument enabling him to cover all styles of music, from jazz scat to rap, from ballads to boogaloo, RnB to hip hop, reggae and ska to soul. As a composer, he had a broad range of skills, being able to write for string orchestra and big band, as well as small ensembles. He also regularly worked with the hip/RnB/soul production team, Seulja, where he primarily undertook vocal and instrumental arranging.

Wilson was also an experienced music teacher and educator. He was Head of Music at a London school, a post he held for two years and, being keen to maintain his role as an educator.

In 2004, Wilson was appointed Artist In Residence for Tomorrow’s Warriors Ltd – the sister company of Dune specialising in youth jazz education and professional artist development – for the period 2004-2007. This appointment resulted in Wilson leading on several education projects in the UK and overseas for children and young people.

In 2005, Wilson was nominated for the BBC Award for Best Band and for the MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act 2005 (along with label mate and saxophonist Soweto Kinch).

In August/September 2005, Wilson was special guest with Soweto Kinch’s band on a 5-date tour of the USA taking in New York (Charlie Parker Festival in Harlem and The Jazz Gallery in Manhattan), Philadelphia (Clef Club), Atlanta (the Montreux Festival in Atlanta), and Chicago (African Festival for the Arts). Due to illness, Kinch was unable to play saxophone and so played piano instead, leaving Wilson to take more of a leading role on the tour. Audiences were clearly impressed as evidenced by the queues to buy his album!

In March 2006, Wilson was appointed Assistant Artistic Director for Tomorrow’s Warriors. Working alongside the Artistic Director, Gary Crosby, Wilson was responsible not only for the company’s education programme but also for the professional/artistic development of members of the company’s core bands, and the live music programme.

In April 2006, Wilson was pronounced winner of the top prize in the Jazz Category of the prestigious International Songwriting Competition in Nashville, TN beating off competition from almost 1,000 entries from 29 countries with his outstanding track, Monk, taken from his Jazz Warrior album.

Wilson was a performer with astounding drive and energy. He was relentless in his exploration of new avenues - combining gospel, soul, blues, jazz and hip-hop, producing music with a fresh exciting edge.

He is survived by his wife, Jennie (née Cashman), whom he married on the day before he died, his siblings and his parents.

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