ABRAM WILSON: Marking 10 years

Today, 10 years to the day since Abram passed away, we remember him with love and celebrate his legacy. 

Last month we marked our 10 year anniversary with a very special gig at which the Church of Sound All-Stars, formed for one night only, played the Abram Wilson songbook. Abram’s music was arranged by saxophonist Binker Golding and trombonist Nathaniel Cross; it was followed by a set of music selected by the artists in the ensemble, which also included: Mark Kavuma; Eddie Wakili Hick; Fergus Ireland; Charlie Casey; Tyrone Isaac Stuart and Christos Stylianides.  Six of the eight musicians knew or played alongside Abram, whilst the others have been involved with our programmes. 

Our founder and CEO Jennie Cashman Wilson opened the event by speaking about why it was such a poignant evening for her.  

Here’s what she said:

“This year, we’re marking 10 years of the Abram Wilson charity and 10 years since Abram passed away.  I know that a number of you knew him personally and knew his music. But I also know that a number of you didn’t see him play and probably didn’t know anything about him before tonight. So I’ll give you a little bit of context from my perspective. 

I met Abram on the 21st May 2009, almost exactly 13 years ago.  I met him at a job interview at a jazz education organisation called Tomorrow’s Warriors, which some of you may have heard of. Happily I got the job but it was meeting Abram just before that interview that kind of changed my life forever. 

Paulo Coelho wrote in his book, 11 minutes, that ‘really important meetings are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other’. And that’s how it felt when I met Abram.  I felt like our souls knew each other. 

We spent the next five months dancing around each other at work. Eventually we went on a date, I asked him out, I sent him a very long rambling email, and he just replied ‘OK’.  That’s how it started. 

I was at Tomorrow’s Warriors for about 18 months, we worked together, and we then started dating and fell in love. Eventually, I left Tomorrow’s Warriors and he left shortly after me. (He was the Assistant Artistic Director there and was also signed to their label at the time, Dune Music) So left at a similar time and soon moved in together which is when I started helping him with his career. 

Things very quickly snowballed because he was possibly one of the most dedicated, passionate, obsessive people that I’ve ever met in my life when it came to jazz music. Within a year, we hit 2012 and the calendar was just crazy. We had this 20-day tour booked to mark his 10-year anniversary in the UK; we had an album that we were planning to record and release; he’d been announced as an Associate Artist at Town Hall and Symphony Hall in Birmingham. He was a professor at Southampton University, so there was a lot going on. 

In the spring of 2012,  at the same time as this tour had started, he began to get quite ill and that just got increasingly worse. But he didn’t want to stop the tour because he loved to play so much.  So we carried on with the tour but it kind of hit crunch time around May. Almost three years to the day that I met him, he was admitted to hospital and two weeks later, he died. We got married the day before on the 8th of June and he died on Saturday 9th of June. 

Obviously that was devastating. It was devastating for me, it was devastating for his family, for his friends, and for those musicians who knew him, loved him, had been taught by him and played with him. That’s when I decided very quickly that I was going to set up something that would somehow encapsulate him and his legacy and the work that we had been doing together. 

Abram was an extraordinary educator, and I have yet to meet anybody like him. He could work with any child or young person, whatever their age, whatever their ability. He could work with children who needed extra support. He could work with children who’d never played music before. And he was also an incredible mentor. He’s really one of the only musicians that I’ve met who was willing to take on musicians and invite them to join his band who were a good 15 to 20 years younger than him.  And this is somebody who trained in the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Wynton Marsalis was his mentor, he went to an Ivy League school, he did a Masters at Eastman Conservatory. He taught Robert Glasper how to be an educator when he was hustling in New York for five years. And this was before he’d even set foot here in the UK.  

He would regularly invite much younger players to join his bands. And he wasn’t afraid to do that because he saw the value of that. He saw how important that was.  I was chatting the other day at rehearsal with Nathaniel Cross, who’s playing trombone tonight, and he said, “Oh, you know, Abram gave me my first gig, I was 15. And he had to really fight for me to be in the band. But he saw something in me and he understood how important it was for me to play.” 

That was the sort of person Abram was and that’s what I wanted to somehow build in terms of a legacy and an organisation. So here we are 10 years on, and I feel really proud of everything that we’ve achieved, I feel like I can say that we’re doing that.

Thanks to Church of Sound for their help and Binker Golding who’s going to be leading the band tonight. We came up with a list of people that we wanted to invite to be part of this All-Stars band. It was really important to me that these were musicians who knew Abram, who played with him and were mentored by him. And we’ve got six out of the eight who tick that box. The other two, Ferg who plays bass and Christos who’s on trumpet, have both been involved in the charity. 

At the rehearsal I was really moved, it was beautiful, it was amazing to see these guys come together and play Abram’s music. It was amazing, because it was really important to Abram that he wrote music that musicians loved to play. And as the rehearsal got going, you could really see how much they were enjoying playing the music. And I thought, ‘well, if the guys have a good time on the night and they’re able to pass that on to you as the audience, then Abram will be in the room.’

The other thing that really touched me – and I’m going to try not to cry on this one – was that I met the majority of the guys who are on stage today back in 2009 when some of them were still just teenagers. And it’s just been incredible to watch them come together and play the music of this man who had an impact on their lives. And also, to have watched them grow up over the last 13 years from these gorgeous, enthusiastic, geeky jazz boys, when jazz was not cool, because it really wasn’t in 2009. And now they’re young men and professional musicians. 

I feel very privileged to have been a part of their journey and to have watched them grow into that. And I feel lucky that they are still in my life, that we could come together for this very special night to share Abram’s music with you.”

Please help us inspire and develop the next generation of talent, for the next 10 years and beyond, by donating to our Champions for Children campaign.  It starts next week and runs 14-21 June. Anything you give will be doubled, at no extra cost to you, which means twice the impact.  

Check out our Instagram for a video of the Abram Wilson All-Stars’ performance of Abram’s track ‘Monk.