Jack Wilson: Ramblin’ (1966) Vault/ Vocalion

Note to myself, stay out of hi-fi topics, for a while anyway, a very opinionated field! Music, onward and upward, a British Decca pressing of an American recording that has a lot of interesting musical content, hopefully may ring your bell…

Selection: Impressions (Coltrane, 1961)

.  .  .

Though the Ornette Coleman title track  “Ramblin’” is the YouTube title of choice personally I prefer some of the other titles. The best all-rounder is my selection, Impressions (Coltrane) Rapid fire, long flowing serpentine piano lines that fall somewhere between Bud Powell champagne and jaunty Horace Silver, choppy comping as McCoy Tyner watches over Jack’s shoulder, whilst Ayers has a chance to limber up and show his chops, no horn in sight, and no Elvin Jones meteor storm.

Close second favourite is a JJ Johnson title I ought to know but don’t, Kilo. More rapid-fire serpentine piano lines which this time put me in mind of Tristano, and the technical execution of Phineas Newborn.

Of the other tracks, the Oliver Nelson title, Stolen Moments, from  Blues and The Abstract Truth is floating in space on a cushion of Ayres ringing tones. Wilson’s interpretation is perfectly complementary, replacing Nelson’s large palette with a stripped down cooler, more intimate presentation.

Throw in a chilled boogaloo “Sidewinder” and there is still more coming to come with three readings from Johnny  Mandell’s The  Sandpiper (“The Shadow Of Your Smile”) and Clare Fischer’s Pensativa, you have an all-round album that deserves a place on your shelf. However there are some dodgy reissues, cautionary note, read on.


Roy Ayers, vibes; Jack Wilson, piano; Monk Montgomery, bass; Varney Barlow as Varner Barlow, drums, recorded Los Angeles, CA, 1965-1966. engineer Brian Ross-Myring, location not credited but probably Annex Studios, Los Angeles.

Subsequent to his late ’60s post-bop and modal beginnings, Roy Ayers went on to become one of the pioneers of jazz-funk, a key figure in the acid jazz movement, and has been dubbed “The Godfather of Neo Soul”. He is still performing today, age 78.

After his three albums for Blue Note, Jack Wilson rather faded from view. Accompanist to singer Esther Phillips for almost ten years, Wilson subsequently found work as sideman and live club and restaurant pianist, recording occasionally for the Discovery label, making his last recording in 1993. He passed away in 2007, age 71.


Ramblin’ is Jack Wilson’s tour de force collaboration with vibist Roy Ayers, a combination of two  instruments that work remarkably well together. Ayers is a percussive stylist in the manner of Bobby Hutcherson but more inside than out.  Wilson is a melodic, lyrical and polished pianist. The pair have a unique way of blending vibes and piano where Wilson’s natural lyrical style blends with Roy’s modal approach to a groove – and the pair “soar out in space”.

The tunes on Ramblin’ are all covers, on to which Wilson and Ayers paint their own style, not a karaoke-cover, but a reworking into a West Coast 1966 vibe.

Jordi Pujol (Fresh Sounds, Spain) says::

“Jack Wilson was a talented, if understated, mainstream jazz pianist. Wilson’s music had elements of hard bop, swing, cool jazz and soul-jazz, and it was all tied together by his tasteful playing. After recording for Vault, he moved to Blue Note.

Ramblin’ is an exceptional and fresh album by two exceptional musicians. Jack Wilson and Roy Ayers have an instinctive and uncomplicated sense of showmanship that goes hand with awareness appreciation for their audience, and an enthusiasm for their music.”

Some on the Hoffman Forum, however,  were not appreciative of the Fresh Sounds reissue:

“Some bootleg label in Spain (Fresh Sound) issued a garbage NoNoised needledrop CD  which sounds horrible.  It really sucks that all these Wilson albums are published on questionable labels from digital needle drops with massive digital noise reduction artifacts”.

“Just found that “Essential Media Group LLC” has published “Ramblin” as MP3 available through Amazon UK. NEEDLE DROP WARNING: Yikes! I’m listening to the sound samples and I hear Lp surface noise and digital noise reduction!”

Dusty Groove says:

A beautiful set of modal jazz tracks – recorded by the great LA pianist Jack Wilson with a young Roy Ayers! The set is amazing, and features haunting piano and vibes interplay between Ayers and Wilson – in a style that could best be summed up as LA modern modal, but which is also embellished by lots warm, lyrical twists by both of the soloists…. a beautiful document of one of the lesser-known streams of jazz that was coming out of the west coast during the time – and it’s key proof that Ayers was an incredible jazz player in his years before moving to soul music.”

Fresh Sounds CD, Out Of Stock, no mention of souces i.e. needledrop.

Though the hipster community would point you to the presence of “the young Roy Ayers“, revered for his later soul funk acid jazz contributions, I still feel the star here  is firmly Jack Wilson, under-appreciated in the shadows of an overcrowded  Piano Hall of Fame, so many great players. I think he deserves to be at least inside The Hall.

Vinyl:  Vocalion LAE-L-603 (UK Decca sub-label) Robin’s egg blue deep groove labels.
Unlike the US version, the UK version lists B4, Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder.” This is a “hidden” track on the US version, where it appears in the lineup but it is not listed on the jacket or label. Vault original appears to be issued on red vinyl (below).

Above, US original release Vault LP-9002, SLP-9002 (exists in stereo) Vault Recording Corporation . 2525 W. Ninth St. Los Angeles, Calif. The Vault label was established in 1963 by Jack Lewerke and Ralph Kaffel. Initially releasing jazz and surf music, their attempts to hit the charts failed and the label was sold in August 1969

Collector’s Corner

“Ramblin” that is the gem of the Vault catalog, and continues to languish without a proper licensed/original tapes reissue.

The Vault label, which I have not seen before, ran as follows, according to CVinyl.

Other recordings by Jack Wilson include three Blue Notes, and some titles for Atlantic with Roy Ayers (no 3 Penthouse sessions is only CD)

Some appear on the Discovery  label in the latter part of the ’70s, possibly something to  look out for though they sound a fairly mainstream piano trio.

The Wilson record you want, of course, is the mighty Katanga! – Curtis Amy and Bolton Dupree, Jack Wilson, piano, yesss!

11 thoughts on “Jack Wilson: Ramblin’ (1966) Vault/ Vocalion

  1. So wonderful to know how much appreciated Jack’s music is!
    “Call Me!” Issued on vinyl and cd, was recorded at The Penthouse in Seattle Washington in 1966! Jack, with Roy Ayers, Buddy Woodson, Von Barlow!
    Issued by Century 67 records! Kristian St. Clair


  2. Today my Vault Mono arrived, lots of crackles and pops but still fresh and dynamic. Lot of very good tracks make me move in front of the turntable..


  3. Interesting that Monk Montgomery is pictured with an acoustic bass on the sleeve. Given the tone I suspect that that is indeed what he’s playing; slightly disappointing for me (though probably not many others) as I’m keen to hear more of his electric playing in this style, though the playing here is certainly enjoyable.


  4. I have the Vault stereo issue with the greenish label . A correction note has been stamped by the company ( Track four ,side two , THE SIDEWINDER ) It is indeed a fine album My favourite track is Impressions closely followed by Ramblin’ . Can I also highly recommend for the crate diggers the quartet recording on Atlantic and the Blue Note “Something personal ” ,both with Roy Ayers.


  5. I admit my one Jack Wilson recording is on the evil disk of silver and I enjoy the music quite a bit, nice to see a post about his other work…which I knew nothing about. By the way, I understand your reticence about further posts on the state of hi-fi. I got off of Steve Hoffman’s site because of the vitriol often spewed by people who had no qualms about hammering away at how wrong someone’s opinion was. I enjoy your site because it usually lacks that quality. I have found you to open minded and quite gracious in your thoughts, regardless of your affinity for vinyl. Keep up the great work.


  6. I enjoyed the track you selected. Anything that covers both Ornette’s RAMBLIN’ and Nelson’s superlative STOLEN MOMENTS has to be worth investigating.


  7. There is also a Vocalion stereo issue, SAE-L 603, with lime-green labels. The stereo placement is more tasteful, with Wilson left-ish, Ayers right-ish, and rythym centre-ish


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