Guide to the Bob Wilber Papers, 1943-2006

Collection number: MC 225
Size: 18 boxes (6.00 cu.ft.)

About Bob Wilber

Robert Sage Wilber, clarinetist, saxophonist, composer, arranger, and educator, was born in New York City on March 15, 1928. He grew up in a musical household and recalls being fascinated with Ellington's recording of "Mood Indigo" at the age of three. In 1935, Wilber moved to Scarsdale, NY and at 13 he began formal clarinet study. He started playing jazz in high school and often visited New York City's 52nd Street absorbing the music of traditional jazzmen such as Pee Wee Russell, Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, and modern jazzmen Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker. Early on, he dedicated his life to jazz at the expense of formal college studies.

Wilber studied with Sidney Bechet in 1946, living with him for several months and sitting in with him occasionally at Jimmy Ryan's. In 1948, Bechet sent him in his stead to Nice, France to perform at the first-ever jazz festival, after which Wilber toured with Mezz Mezzrow. In 1946 Wilber formed The Wildcats and recorded sides for Commodore and, with Bechet, for Columbia. In Boston from 1948 to 1951, he led a group of veteran jazzmen at the Savoy Cafe and also played at George Wein's Storyville as a headliner with the De Paris brothers and Sid Catlett.

Wilber entered the Army in 1951, after which he studied with modernists Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz. He also studied classical clarinet with Leon Russinoff for five years. During this time, Wilber had significant gigs with Eddie Condon and Bobby Hackett, and formed his own group, The Six, focusing on combining traditional and modern jazz elements. In 1958-59, he toured twice with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. In 1968, Wilber joined the World's Greatest Jazz Band (WGJB) for six years. He began composing and writing more, and his music reflected increasingly progressive elements. In 1975, Wilber formed the highly regarded Soprano Summit along with co-leader Kenny Davern. This quintet featured both early jazz pieces and original music. The WGJB and Soprano Summit experience combined with work Wilber had done for Duke Ellington conventions in the 1960s reflected an increasing interest in jazz repertory work, not only recreating jazz from original scores but allowing for modern variations. In the 1970s and 1980s, he produced concerts for the New York Jazz Repertory Company and directed the Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble.

In 1981, Wilber formed Bechet Legacy, a group dedicated to the musical heritage of Sidney Bechet. Wilber was the musical director for the soundtrack to the movie The Cotton Club (for which he won a Grammy in 1986) and for the Broadway show Mr. Jelly Lord. In 1988, he assembled an orchestra and recreated the famous 1938 Benny Goodman concert at Carnegie Hall as well as at London's Royal Albert Hall.

In 1989, Wilber organized and performed a Royal Ellington concert for the Queen, featuring the performance debut of Ellington's "The Queen's Suite." In 1992, he persuaded Artie Shaw to visit England to conduct a concert at Royal Festival Hall in which Wilber played Shaw’s “Concerto for Clarinet” among other classical and jazz selections.

An internationally renowned and consummate jazz musician, Bob Wilber's work is not finished. He continues to travel and perform extensively featuring his own original music as well as that of Bechet, Morton, Ellington, Goodman, and Henderson, among others. Wilber has performed with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO) several times in recent years, most recently as musical director for the LCJO Benny Goodman Centenary concert (May 2009). He has helped make jazz repertory an integral part of jazz education around the world.

In 2010, Wilber was selected as the headliner for the University of New Hampshire’s historic 200th concert in the Traditional Jazz Series.

About the Bob Wilber Papers

The Bob Wilber papers are divided into seven series. Series 1, Personal Life, documents Wilber’s life. Series 2, Musical Career, comprises the bulk of the collection and details his career from the early years to the present day.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

This collection is open.

Copyright Notice

Contents of this collection are governed by U.S. copyright law. For questions about publication or reproduction rights, contact Special Collections staff.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], [Folder number], [Box number], Bob Wilber Papers, 1943-2006, MC 225, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

Acquisitions Information

Donation, Bob Wilber and Joanne "Pug" Horton, August 19, 2009 (Accession number: 2009.06)

Collection Contents

Series 1: Personal Life

Box 1
Box 1, Folder 1Early Years (1943-45): two letters, dated 1943, to his parents, and his high school English thesis on the subject of “Debussy and Impressionism in French Music, ”1945
Box 1, Folder 2Army Service: service records
Box 1, Folder 3Education (BA degree), 1982
Box 1, Folder 4Bob and Pug
Box 1, Folder 5Estate - Mother's death
Box 1, Folder 6Teaching - Antii Sarpila, 1979-1993
Box 1, Folder 7Teaching - The New School, 1982
Box 1, Folder 8Teaching - Wilkes College, 1982-1988
Box 1, Folder 9Teaching - Other
Box 1, Folder 10Writings: Autobiography
Box 1, Folder 11Writings: Autobiography - Correspondence
Box 1, Folder 12Writings: Autobiography - financial/legal
Box 1, Folder 13Writings: Autobiography - promotional
Box 1, Folder 14Writings: Autobiography - book reviews
Box 2
Box 2, Folder 1Writing: Forty Years as a Working Musician
Box 2, Folder 2Writing: Other

Series 2: Musical Career

Box 2, Folder 3Scarsdale/Wildcats, 1944-1948
Box 2, Folder 4Studying with Sidney Bechet, 1946
Box 2, Folder 5Nice International Fesitval, 1948
Box 2, Folder 6Boston/New York years, 1948-1951
Box 2, Folder 7Studying with Tristano and Konitz, 1951-1952
Box 2, Folder 8Army Years, 1951-1953
Box 2, Folder 9The Six, 1954-1956
Box 2, Folder 10Eddie Condon, 1956-1957
Box 2, Folder 11Hackett/Goodman, 1957-1959
Box 2, Folder 12General Programs, 1950s
Box 2, Folder 13Freelancing, 1960-1968
Box 2, Folder 14World's Greatest Jazz Band, 1969-1974

Box 2, Folder 15General programs/articles, 1960s
Box 3
Box 3, Folder 1Soprano Summit, 1973-1977
Box 3, Folder 2New York Jazz Repertory Company, 1974-1975
Box 3, Folder 3Bob, Dave, and Pug, 1978-1979
Box 3, Folder 4Bob and Pug, 1978-1980
Box 3, Folder 5General articles, interviews, 1970s
Box 3, Folder 6General programs, 1970s
Box 4
Box 4, Folder 1National Endowment for the Arts grants, 1979-1984
Box 4, Folder 2Jazz Repertory Ensemble - programs, 1979-1985
Box 4, Folder 3Jazz Repertory Ensemble - concert announcement and reviews, 1979-1985
Box 4, Folder 4Swingin' for the King, 1979-1985
Box 4, Folder 5Bechet Legacy - reviews, 1981-1983
Box 4, Folder 6Bechet Legacy - programs, 1981-1983
Box 5
Box 5, Folder 1Duke Ellington conference, 1981, 1985
Box 5, Folder 2Production: My One and Only, 1982
Box 5, Folder 3The Cotton Club: articles, announcements, reviews, 1984
Box 5, Folder 4The Cotton Club: articles, announcements, reviews (con't), 1984
Box 5, Folder 5The Cotton Club: Contracts, 1984
Box 5, Folder 6The Cotton Club: Crouch article and comments, 1984-1985
Box 5, Folder 7Ephemera, 1984
Box 6
Box 6, Folder 1Production: Mr. Jelly Lord, 1985
Box 6, Folder 2Hyman/Wilber, Pennsylvania Tour, 1987
Box 6, Folder 3Benny Goodman Big Band, 1987-1989
Box 6, Folder 4Benny Goodman Big Band: announcements and reviews, 1987-1989
Box 6, Folder 5Benny Goodman Big Band: programs, 1987-89
Box 6, Folder 6Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Concert Recreation: background and correspondence, 1988
Box 6, Folder 7Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Concert Recreation: programs, announcements, reviews, 1988
Box 7
Box 7, Folder 1Ellington "Queen's Suite," 1989
Box 7, Folder 2Royal Viking Star Cruises, 1989-1990
Box 7, Folder 3General programs, 1980s
Box 7, Folder 4General programs, 1980s
Box 7, Folder 5General articles and reviews, 1980s
Box 7, Folder 6Foreign language reviews, 1980s
Box 8
Box 8, Folder 1Production: Bix, 1990
Box 8, Folder 2Pizza in the Park concerts, 1990s
Box 8, Folder 3Artie Shaw Project: announcement, reviews, programs, and press releases, 1992
Box 8, Folder 4Artie Shaw Project: correspondence, 1992
Box 8, Folder 5Soprano Summit Reunion, 1992
Box 8, Folder 6Arbors Jazz Parties, mid-1990s
Box 8, Folder 7Retirement, 1995
Box 8, Folder 8Bechet at 100: announcements, reviews, programs, correspondence, 1997
Box 8, Folder 9General programs, reviews/interviews, 1990s
Box 9
Box 9, Folder 1General programs, 1990s
Box 9, Folder 2General programs, 1990s
Box 9, Folder 3General programs, 1990s
Box 9, Folder 4General programs, 1990s
Box 10
Box 10, Folder 1Nicholas Payton concert and CD: correspondence, 2006
Box 10, Folder 2General programs, 2000s
Box 10, Folder 3Programs, undated
Box 10, Folder 4Publicity/reviews, undated

Series 3: Miscellaneous

Box 10, Folder 5Awards and polls
Box 10, Folder 6Bodeswell Recording Co.
Box 10, Folder 7Classical performances
Box 10, Folder 8Concert notes, lists, undated materials
Box 10, Folder 9Contracts (recording and performing)
Box 10, Folder 10Correspondence
Box 10, Folder 11Discography
Box 10, Folder 12Itineraries and calendars
Box 11
Box 11, Folder 1Music scores
Box 11, Folder 2Non-Wilber articles
Box 11, Folder 3Non-Wilber programs, signed, 1950s

Series 4: Record Reviews

Box 11, Folder 4Audiophile - Bodeswell
Box 11, Folder 5Challenge - World Jazz
Box 11, Folder 6General

Series 5: Joanne "Pug" Horton

Box 12
Box 12, Folder 1Career
Box 12, Folder 2Cookbook
Box 12, Folder 3Personal/family

Series 6: Photographs

(Unprocessed: Boxes 13 - 16)

Series VII: Oversize Material

Oversize Box 1

Catalog - Empress of the Blues

Leather file of original music scores

Oversize Box 2

Bob Wilber: A Man and His Music: poster

Certificate for band training course, Fort Dix, NJ, 1952

"World's Greatest Show Restraint" article and cartoon

UNH Traditional Jazz series concert poster, 2008

Bechet Legacy poster

Down Beat poster, 1954

The Royal Ellington poster, 1989

Oversize Pug Horton photos