Ernest Brooks Wilkins Jr. (July 20, 1919 – 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.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. 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 several promising jazz musicians as well 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.
This previously unreleased music was recorded live by the Danish Radio at the famous jazz club Montmartre, in Copenhagen, in June, 1975. The CD consists of 7 tracks (69 min.), and the repertoire is a round blending of blues, standards and modern jazz, including tunes like Garner’s ”Misty”, ”Bye Bye Blackbird”, Ellington’s ”Satin Doll”, and ”The Theme”. Since Clark Terry and Ernie Wilkins had been close friends – privately and musically – since their childhood in St. Louis, there is a special communication and relaxed cohesiveness in their playing, not least of all because of their years together in the Count Basie Orch. Ernie Wilkins is best known for his great talents as composer and arranger for big bands - especially Count Basie and countless jazz singers - while Clark Terry is a premier trumpeter and flugelhorn player, famous as a soloist and as side-man in Count Basie’s Orch. The band on this CD was on a European tour at the time of this Montmartre gig, and were a tight, relaxed unit, featuring a fabulous rhythm section (Horace Parlan, Mads Vinding and Bjarne Rostvold), plus two star guests – Richard Boone and Dexter Gordon. Two of the highlights on the CD are a 15-min. version of ”Bye-Bye Blackbird” and a swinging and very funny blues, where, believe it or not, Richard Boone, Dexter Gordon and Clark Terry do some singing. High professionalism and a relaxed, good feeling make this first-time release a perfect tribute to two old friends from St. Louis, who are two of the top names in modern jazz today.