“Even if you were chronologically decades or maybe generations younger than Gerald, you always felt like he was the youngest person in the room,” Loren Schoenberg, a saxophonist and conductor who is the artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, said in an interview on Tuesday. “He had none of that feeling that you were hanging out with a guy from the 1930s or 1940s.”
Mr. Wilson was often a behind-the-scenes influence; even if you had never heard of him, you were often hearing him. Usually he was given credit. Sometimes his work was brazenly borrowed.
The memorable melody from “Yard Dog Mazurka,” the stomping hit he wrote for Lunceford (and among Mr. Wilson’s favorites of his own compositions), resurfaced as “Intermission Riff,” a hit for the Stan Kenton band for which Ray Wetzel was credited as the composer. Mr. Wilson considered suing but decided against it. Years later, he wrote for Mr. Kenton — and received credit.