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Ernie Wilkins

Ernie Wilkins

American jazz saxophonist, bandleader and music arranger
The basics
Quick Facts
Occupations Conductor Saxophonist Jazz musician Bandmaster
Countries United States of America
Gender male
Birth July 20, 1919 (St. Louis)
Death June 5, 1999 (Copenhagen)
The details

Ernest Brooks Wilkins Jr. (July 20, 1922 – June 5, 1999) was a jazz arranger and writer who also played tenor saxophone. He might be best known for his work with Count Basie. He also wrote for Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Dizzy Gillespie. In addition to that he was musical director for albums by Cannonball Adderley, Dinah Washington, Oscar Peterson, and Buddy Rich.

Early career

Wilkins was born in St. Louis, Missouri. In his early career he played in a military band, before joining Earl Hines's last big band. In 1951 he began working with Basie. After 1955 he went free-lance as a jazz arranger and writer of songs as he was much in demand at that time. His success declined in the 1960s, but revived after work with Clark Terry. This led to his touring Europe.

Final years in Denmark

Eventually Wilkins settled in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he would live for the rest of his life. There he formed the Almost Big Band so he could write for a band of his own formation. The idea was partly inspired by his wife Jenny. Copenhagen had a thriving jazz scene with several promising jazz musicians as well as a well-established community of expatriate American jazz musicians which had formed in the 1950s and now included representatives like Kenny Drew and Ed Thigpen who joined the band along with Danish saxophonist Jesper Thilo. The band released four albums, but after 1991 he became too ill to do much with it. He died in Copenhagen.

Wilkins was responsible for orchestral arrangements on 1972's self-titled album by Alice Clark, on Mainstream Records, a highly sought-after collectible today.

Ernie Wilkins died on June 5, 1999 of a stroke.

Wilkins has a street named after him in southern Copenhagen, "Ernie Wilkins Vej" (eng. Ernie Wilkins Street).


  • Flutes & Reeds (Savoy, 1955) with Frank Wess
  • Top Brass (Savoy, 1955)
  • The Drum Suite (RCA Victor, 1956) with Manny Albam
  • Pori Big Band & Ernie Wilkins (Finlandia, 1977)
  • Montreux (SteepleChase, 1985)
  • On the Roll (SteepleChase, 1987)

As sideman/arranger

With Count Basie

  • The Count! (Clef, 1952 [1955])
  • Basie Jazz (Clef, 1952 [1954])
  • Dance Session (Clef, 1953)
  • Dance Session Album#2 (Clef, 1954)
  • Basie (Clef, 1954)

With Louis Bellson

  • Let's Call It Swing (Verve, 1957)
  • Drummer's Holiday (Verve, 1958)

With Dizzy Gillespie

  • Jazz Recital (Norgran, 1955)
  • World Statesman (Norgran, 1956)
  • Dizzy in Greece (Verve, 1957)

With Joe Newman

  • All I Wanna Do Is Swing (RCA Victor, 1955)
  • Soft Swingin' Jazz (Coral, 1958)

As arranger

With Ernestine Anderson

  • My Kinda Swing (Mercury, 1960)

With Count Basie

  • Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings (Clef, 1955) with Joe Williams
  • April in Paris (Verve, 1956)
  • Metronome All-Stars 1956 (Clef, 1956) with Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams
  • One O'Clock Jump (Verve, 1957) with Joe Williams and Ella Fitzgerald
  • Me and You (Pablo, 1983)

With Ray Brown

  • Ray Brown with the All-Star Big Band (Verve, 1962)

With Jimmy Cleveland

  • Cleveland Style (EmArcy, 1958)
  • A Map of Jimmy Cleveland (Mercury, 1959)

With Al Cohn

  • The Natural Seven (RCA Victor, 1955)
  • That Old Feeling (RCA Victor, 1955)

With Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis

  • Trane Whistle (Prestige, 1960)

With Maynard Ferguson

  • Maynard '62 (Roulette, 1962)

With Dizzy Gillespie

  • Birks' Works (Verve, 1957)

With Freddie Green

  • Mr. Rhythm (RCA Victor, 1955)

With Milt Jackson

  • Big Bags (Riverside, 1962)

With Harry James

  • Wild About Harry! (Capitol Records – ST 874, 1957)
  • The New James (Capitol Records – ST 1037, 1958)
  • Harry's Choice! (Capitol Records – ST 1093, 1958)

With Quincy Jones

  • The Great Wide World of Quincy Jones (Mercury, 1959)

With Sam Jones

  • Down Home (Riverside, 1962)

With Charles McPherson

  • Siku Ya Bibi (Day of the Lady) (Mainstream, 1972)
  • Today's Man (Mainstream, 1973)

With Joe Newman

  • The Count's Men (Jazztone, 1955)
  • Salute to Satch (RCA Victor, 1956)
  • I Feel Like a Newman (Storyville, 1956)
  • The Midgets (Vik, 1956)
  • The Happy Cats (Coral, 1957)
  • Joe Newman with Woodwinds (Roulette, 1958)

With Herb Pomeroy

  • The Band and I (United Artists, 1958) with Irene Kral

With Sarah Vaughan and the Count Basie Orchestra

  • Count Basie/Sarah Vaughan (Roulette, 1960)

With Charles Williams

  • Stickball (Mainstream, 1972)


  • 1981 Ben Webster Prize

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