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Alec Wilder

Alec Wilder was one of those unusual composers who managed to bridge the worlds of serious and popular music, jazz and classical, the concert hall and the dance hall, without losing credibility in any of those areas.

A major figure in the New York music world, he was equally at home writing ballet and opera, or composing songs for Tommy Dorsey, authoring concertos or pop standards for Frank Sinatra. Wilder was born in Rochester, NY, and studied at the Eastman School of Music. His teachers included the composer Howard Hanson. He first established himself in New York as a songwriter and arranger in big-band jazz circles at the end of the 1920s and the early '30s, composing for Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, among others. He wrote hundreds of popular songs during his career, including "All the King's Horses" (which was used in the 1930 Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz stage musical Three's a Crowd) and "Stop That Dancin' Up There," and he saw his work recorded by such major artists as Harry James and Frank Sinatra (who cut an entire instrumental album of Wilder's work, as conductor).

His first major success as a songwriter came in 1934 with "While We're Young," and he delivered a succession of hits over the decades that followed -- among the more notable was "All the Cats Join In," which became a hit for Benny Goodman in the mid-'40s as well as the centerpiece of a Walt Disney film. Wilder's exposure to the world of popular jazz exerted a powerful influence on his career as a serious composer -- he composed jazz music for wind instruments, and in 1942 premiered a ballet entitled Juke Box with the American Ballet, built on popular thematic material. It was the first of several ballets, including False Dawn and Life Goes On. In some ways, he was the heir to George Gershwin as a composer of jazz-based classical music, authoring works such as the Concerto for Saxophone and Chamber Orchestra and numerous suites for jazz ensemble and orchestra, well into the 1960s, long after they were considered fashionable in music circles. Wilder also composed operas (Ellen, 1955), stage cantatas (Miss Chicken Little, 1957), and many works aimed at younger listeners, including the Child's Introduction to the Orchestra in 1954. Wilder also wrote one major reference book, American Popular Song 1900 - 1950, which was published in 1972.