Joe Wilder, a trumpeter of understated lyricism and breathtaking range who toured with some of the biggest names in jazz, helped integrate Broadway pit orchestras and enjoyed a late-career renaissance as a rediscovered master, died Friday at a rehabilitation facility in New York City. He was 92.
He had congestive heart failure, said a daughter, Elin Wilder-Melcher.
Although Joe Wilder performed with such jazz giants as Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie, he seemed to spend much of his career standing just outside the spotlight.
"Of all the living legends of jazz certified by the National Endowment for the Arts," critic Will Friedwald wrote when Wilder was named a 2008 NEA jazz master, "Joe Wilder is at once among the least known to the general public . . . and the most prized by musicians, especially his fellow trumpeters."
Although he recorded only a handful of albums under his name, Wilder appeared on hundreds of others as a sideman and was known for his versatility, sensitivity and musical elegance.
He performed classical music, was among the first African-Americans to play in Broadway pit orchestras and was a member of the ABC network's musical staff for 17 years, including a long stint in the house band for Dick Cavett's late-night talk show.
But he was at his best as a stylish master of midcentury swing and big-band jazz. He toured the segregated South with bandleader Lionel Hampton before World War II and, in the early 1960s, visited the Soviet Union with Benny Goodman's group on a trip sponsored by the State Department.
Joseph Benjamin Wilder was born in 1922 in Colwyn, Pennsylvania. His father, a bass player and bandleader in Philadelphia, encouraged his son's early interest in music.
Before he reached his teens, Wilder appeared on a weekly radio program in Philadelphia that featured black musicians accompanied by the bands of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, among others.
Wilder was among the first wave of African-Americans to enter the Marine Corps during World War II. One of the officers at his base, pianist and composer Bobby Troup, who wrote "Route 66," helped arrange for Wilder to transfer from the infantry to a musical unit.
In later years, Wilder often performed with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the Statesmen of Jazz, a touring group of veteran musicians. He made his debut as a bandleader at Manhattan's venerable Village Vanguard jazz club when he was 83. He continued to perform until 2012.
Survivors include his wife of 56 years, Solveig Wilder, and their three daughters, Elin Wilder-Melcher, Solveig Wilder and Inga Wilder, all of New York; and a son from an earlier marriage, Joseph Wilder of Charlotte, North Carolina.