A tribute by Tony Dudley-Evans, Jazzlines Artistic Adviser

The loss of Abram Wilson at such an early age and at a time when his career was really taking off is a really devastating blow to music. Abram was a brilliant trumpeter, bandleader and educator and he had a profound influence on all those who worked with him, not just as a great musician, but as a warm and totally positive person who made things happen.

I first met Abram some years ago when he was touring with his band of the time which came to The Drum. I was immediately impressed by the way he worked with the musicians in his band, very much taking control of the music and the way the band members approached each tune. This was done very supportively and each player had freedom, but Abram provided the overall framework to the performance. This supportive authority was very apparent with the quartet that Abram formed in the last year. He chose three young up-and-coming musicians: pianist Reuben James on piano, whom he discovered while running a workshop in Birmingham for the Jazzlines Ensemble, Alex Davis on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums and moulded them into a very strong group. Abram took a strong interest in each of them personally and acted as a mentor on both their musical and their personal development. The group was at the heart of recent performances on a 7-date tour by a very talented Olympic Septet with Pete King, Jean Toussaint and Winston Rollins playing Abram’s Running With The Flame project.

I also had extensive contact with Abram at Cheltenham in setting up the commission Ride! – Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta suite commissioned by the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2006. This was in my opinion the most successful Jerwood commission of the eight years of the Jerwood Rising Stars and Jerwood Jazz Generation schemes. It had a very strong concept telling the story of a young trumpeter who is a brilliant blues player, but goes on tour with a hip hop outfit with life threatening effects. Eventually, however, he returns successfully to his family and the style of music in which he excels. This was a totally original composition wonderfully alive in both concert performance and on the subsequent recording.

In recent years Town Hall Symphony Hall and the present Jazzlines team have worked closely with Abram on a number of education projects, culminating in the commission for the Ladywood Showcase Time I Met The Blues. Abram wrote a brilliant piece that worked really well with the 270 Ladywood school children in the Showcase; it had a rhythm and energy that immediately generated huge enthusiasm and excitement. And to see Abram working with this large group in the two rehearsals was quite simply a life enhancing experience. Abram always had the children’s full attention and it was clear that they had a great affection for him. It was with great sadness that the Showcase had to go ahead without Abram, who was in hospital, but the work he had done in the rehearsals ensured that the performance of Time I Met The Blues was a great success.

All of us at THSH were really looking forward to collaborating with Abram in his role as Associate Artist to the Jazzlines programme. Working with Abram was always a joyful and energising experience that increased one’s enthusiasm for the music and for life in general. Abram is irreplaceable and we shall miss him tremendously. But Abram has made a lasting contribution that will be with us for many years; to quote his own words ‘Music has so much to offer, I know this is clichéd but I think that if everybody played jazz music I think the world would be a much better place’ (October 2011, Connecting to Jazz film). Our thoughts are with Abram’s wife Jennie, his family from the USA and his band members.