Composer of the Day!

Today’s Composer of the Day is Ollie Wilson.

(b. 1951)

Ollie Wilson was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He did not travel far for his higher education, attending Springfield College (home of the Basketball Hall of Fame). There he played wide receiver for the Springfield footballers, graduating in 1973. He later went on to coach in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons. Most notably, he was the running back coach for the San Diego Chargers from 1997-2001, where he tutored a young LaDainian Tomlinson, who went on to break numerous team records as a rookie. In late January, Ollie was reinstated as the running back coach for the Chargers, where he can be found today. (photo from Ghetty Images)

Lately though, mostly here at the Detritus Review, Ollie has been the center of some controversy. In the wake of the Cleveland Orchestra’s push to program more new music, American composers, like Ollie, seem to have been snubbed. Don Rosenberg notes:

Orchestras have a duty to perform music by composers of many nations and styles. An American orchestra should pay more than passing attention to its own country's composers, including such established and rising figures as William Bolcom, John Harbison, Nico Muhly and Ollie Wilson.

While Ollie continues to coach the Chargers, his music...


Aww fuck! (sigh) Way to go Rosenberg. Pfft. Thanks for your eagle-eyes, anonymous.


Today’s Composer of the Day is actually Olly Wilson!

(b. 1937)

Olly Wilson is a composer, not a football coach. And he was not born in Massachusetts, but in St. Louis, Missouri.

More than just a composer, Olly is a double bassist, pianist and musicologist. He has a wealth of experience as a jazz and orchestral musician. He has also worked extensively with electronic media. Notably, as a musicologist, he spent time in West Africa studying indigenous music culminating in a number of published articles about African and African American music.

He has received degrees in music from Washington University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Iowa, where he studied with Robert Kelley, Robert Wykes and Philip Bezanson. He taught at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music from 1965-1970. But, he mainly taught at U.C. Berkeley from 1970-2002, where he is now professor emeritus.

His music has been played around the world, commissioned by such prominent ensembles as the N.Y. Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He’s garnered numerous awards and distinctions, including being elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard his music and there isn’t much on the interwebs to help out in this department. But from all accounts, his music is extraordinary. No doubt, his music is influenced by his work with jazz, African, African American and European musics. Last year, Joshua Kosman interviewed the recently retired:

Q: What is involved for you in negotiating between these different musical traditions?

A: It reflects the idea that W.E.B. Dubois wrote about in 1902, of "double consciousness." He suggested that African Americans have a consciousness of the broader world of which they're part and also of the inner world of African American life, and one is constantly moving through those worlds. They're not warring, they're integrated, but it's complicated by official racism that exists in the society.

Now, if you're studying music seriously, you're essentially studying European music. That has changed somewhat in the last 30 or 40 years -- we're aware now of a wider world out there -- but the first learned tradition is still a European one. And if you're involved in a musical tradition with its roots in a different ethnicity, then you're dealing back and forth. You have to know who and where you are at all times.

Even though I haven’t heard his music, I whole-heartedly advocate it. You should definitely seek out and listen to his music. And if you’re the Cleveland Orchestra, you should program his music. And if you’re from the Cleveland Pain Dealer, you should correctly spell his name.


Anonymous said...

I gots me some Olly W. on a recording with Harbison Symphony no. 1. Double-header-best-of-the-best. Go American!

Lisa Hirsch said...

Berkeley Symphony played a big Olly Wilson piece last year - good piece; I liked it.

Empiricus said...

Cool. Got any more info? I struggled to find his stuff. He seems, one, really intriguing, two, freaking incredible and, three, without pretense, super important. I am all ears, you two.

Anonymous said...

The Sinfonia that anonymous speaks of I downloaded from iTunes yesterday. That's all he's got on iTunes. It's very nicely written for the orchestra, and he gets a lot of mileage out of one chord. And none of that sweet Americana stuff.

Olly is unpretentious and not into the self-promotion thing. A kindred spirit.

I have heard some of his chamber music and vocal chamber music, and it's got a pretty wide range stylistically and gesturally -- I would call it Uptown meets Duke Ellington, even though that's very imprecise. I get Art Tatum in his piano licks, Ionisation in his percusion licks, and lots of jazz chords in odd inversions. And it bristles with pretty cool explosions.

I've also seen him conduct his own music, so add that to the list of what Olly does.

Sator Arepo said...

Awesome. I learned something! And great pics, too. Too bad so few links, I couldn't find any vids either.