Bob Wilber, an internationally recognized jazz musician who grew up in Scarsdale, died Aug. 4 at the age of 91 in his home in England. Wilber, class of 1945, attended Scarsdale High School and released several of his first jazz records during his time there. Wilber also formed a band called The Wildcats while still at SHS, and the group became regulars at the clubs along Manhattan’s 52nd Street, which was known as the center of jazz in the mid-1900s. The Wildcats also recorded 78s for Commodore Records and became colloquially known in some circles as “The Scarsdale High Gang.”
Wilber was a saxophonist, clarinetist and bandleader who had a hand in leading a traditional jazz comeback after WWII. He was recognized as a musician who admired the sound of greats like Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and his mentor Sidney Bechet, and he brought that sound with him into the post-modern music scene.
Robert “Bob” Sage Wilber was born on March 15, 1928 in New York City. Wilber was introduced to music by his father, an amateur pianist and jazz lover. Wilber attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, for one semester before dropping out to return to the New York City area, where he began studying under Bechet in 1946. He scraped by as a musician playing gigs at Jimmy Ryan’s on 52nd Street, and served for two years in the army in the early 1950s, where he also played in a band.
Wilber’s discography is extensive, spanning more than 60 years and associated with acts like Bobby Hackett, Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden and Eddie Condon. He was an original member of the “World’s Greatest Jazz Band” and “Soprano Summit,” both well-recognized groups, and wrote the music for several films. He was active in jazz education, working as the director of the Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble and writing an autobiography titled “Music Was Not Enough.”
Wilber is survived by his wife JoAnne “Pug” Horton, his daughter from a previous marriage Elizabeth Wilber Gongde, and Shirley Rickards “Ricky” Wilber, his wife from 1948 to 1977.