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Gerald Wiggins

Gerald Wiggins, born in Harlem, is a jazz pianist and organist. He studied classical, but switched to jazz in his teens. He began as a professional playing accompaniment to Stepin Fetchit. He has worked with Louis Armstrong and Benny Carter. In the 1940s he moved to Los Angeles where he played music for television and film. He has also worked with singers like Lena Horne, Kay Starr, Nat King Cole, Lou Rawls, Jimmy Witherspoon and Eartha Kitt. It was Wig that taught Marilyn Monroe how to sing for her movie roles.

He is perhaps best known for his trio, the other two members being Andy Simpkins and Paul Humphrey. He also appeared in an episode of 227 and an episode of Moesha, in both cases playing a pianist.

Detailed Bio

Gerald Wiggins began classical piano lessons at the age of four. Like most children, he was not wildly enthusiastic about Chopin or Beethoven, but he did display an aptitude for music. What finally got his undivided attention was an Art Tatum recording played for him by his cousin. “When I first heard that record, I thought it was two or three people playing at the same time.” When it was time for high school, Wig was able to attend New York's High School of Music & Art in Harlem where, because of the abundance of piano students, he studied bass. Wig's professional career began while he was still in high school.

His very first gig was playing piano with Dr. Sausage & His Pork Chops, a tramp band complete with washboard and single string bass made from a washtub and pole. His next job was at Monroe's Uptown House. He studied by day, maybe had time for a quick nap, and then played from midnight until dawn, only to head straight back to school. Later he got a gig at a club in Greenwich Village that earned him $3 a night, which was good money in those days. After finishing his last show at four o'clock in the morning, more often than not, he might stop off at Reuben's, an after-hours hangout favored especially by the pianists. It was there, in the basement of a brownstone in Harlem, that Wig got to know his first idol, Art Tatum. It was not unusual to see Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell, or Willie “the Lion” Smith each taking a turn at the old upright piano. Whenever Art Tatum came in, Reuben would line up a few quarts of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Art would drink some, and then set to playing, usually solo. Wig listened intently, soaking up the lessons he'd never get in the classroom. “Art was the kind of guy that if you asked him to show you how he did something, he would, but nine times out of ten you couldn't do it anyhow!” After hearing Wig play at Reuben's, Tatum was impressed enough to recommend Wig for a job with movie comedian Stepin Fetchit. “I did some playing with Stepin Fetchit,” recalls Wig, “but I had to do other bits too. He used me as something of a straight man. We worked a lot, touring all over in lots of one-horse towns, but I was making $50 a week and that was really a lot of money back then.” It was while working with Stepin Fetchit at the Brooklyn Strand in New York that Wig met Les Hite, whose band was also on the bill. At the end of the engagement, Les' pianist was drafted into the Army and Wig was invited to join the band. The band was based in Los Angeles, and Wig rode out to the coast with them on the tour bus. Leaving the cold winter snows behind them, they arrived in California on Christmas Day, greeted by sunny 100-degree weather. “I called my mother and said ‘I'm in God's country.'”

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Album Review
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Albums

Wiggins & Wiggins

Self Produced
2007

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Wig Is Here

Atlantic Records
2002

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Wiggin' Out

Hi Fi Jazz
2000

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Wiggin' Out

Atlantic Records
1960

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Collections

Intro Records
1957

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