December 22, 1935 -- July 17, 2011
Joe Lee Wilson was born on December 22, 1935 in Bristow, Oklahoma, and grew up on his parent's farm there. He had vivid memories of African-American cowboys and rodeos and was very proud of his Creek Indian identity, which influenced his writing and performing. Inspired to sing by listening to Louis Jordan and Nat Cole on the radio, he met and befriended the great jazz singer Eddie Jefferson after moving to California at the age of 15. He frequented the jazz clubs of first Los Angeles and then San Francisco, where he was working with top musicians by the late 1950's. Wilson had spent years in Los Angeles studying classical voice and jazz at Conservatory and L.A. Community College and was working frequently in California and Mexico, so when Ernestine Anderson invited him to New York in 1960 he was ready.
New York was to be the scene of his greatest artistic and commercial success in the U.S. over the next seventeen years. Under Jefferson's influence, Wilson focused his singing on compositions by jazz musicians while honing and shaping his three octave range baritone to the lines and punctuations of musical instruments. Collaborating with jazz greats like Sonny Rollins, Lee Morgan, Pharoah Sanders, and Jackie McLean led to offers of recording contracts and a desire to be a band leader by the late 1960s. By the early 1970's Wilson was a key player in the New York NoHo loft scene with his Ladies' Loft at 2 Bond Street. His band, the Joe Lee Wilson Plus Five, featured alto sax man Monty Waters, guitarist Ryo Kawasaki and often included Archie Shepp and Eddie Jefferson. He recorded with Jefferson,Freddy Hubbard and Kenny Dorham and his album "Livin' High Off Nickels and Dimes" was a jazz radio hit in 1975. In 1977, Wilson moved to Europe with a new wife.
Joe Lee Wilson spent the last thirty years of his life composing and performing all over the world while living mostly in Paris and Brighton, UK. He played on fifteen tours for the State Department, was an artist in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine composing sacred music, and recorded frequently with special emphasis on blues rooted interpretations of songs by jazz musicians with his band Joy of Jazz.
Wilson died in 2011 after a long heart illness.
- 1974: "Livin' High Off Nickels & Dimes" (Oblivion Records)
- 1976: Shout For Trane (Whynot Records)
- 1977: Secrets from the Sun (Sun Records (jazz))
- 2008: Ballads for Trane (Philology)
- 2008: I Believe (Philology)