I don’t play “jazz,” I play for the people. I play for understanding. Understanding is the greatest thing in the world. If the people can understand what I’m doing, then they’ll like it alright. I don’t have no trouble with that.
‚Äî Nate Wiley
Philadelphia lost one of its greatest ambassadors and ties to our collective musical legacy on Sunday night. Nate Wiley held it down on South Street ‚Äî mostly at Bob & Barbara’s in the last few decades ‚Äî for over 60 years. For anyone who ever popped in for a drink and wound up staying for, well, longer, Nate and his band, The Crowd Pleasers, provided a soundtrack that was witty, urbane, romantic and thanks to the combo of that big heapin’ Hammond sound and Wiley’s horn, quintessentially Philadelphian. Nate Wiley, you are survived by all of us. God bless and hopefully, we’ll see you again one day at that great big watering hole in the sky. Thank you.
JimMcGorman: A Taste Of Nate [Quicktime short on Nate Wiley & The Crowd Pleasers]
CP: The Crowd Pleaser [cover story on Nate circa '98]
After the jump, friend and fan Jeffro Kilpatrick remembers Nate.
Nate Wiley had BIG shoulders. He made his horn
whisper and growl. He loved Henrietta for many years.
He loved music. He loved the crowd. He loved to
swing and make people smile. He taught me about
family and life and strength. He taught me that
you’re never too old to learn and make progress. He
practiced every day. Nate Wiley’s gone to Heaven, and
I hope I get to see and hear him again.
I don’t know Nate’s early life enough to write an
obit. I have a bunch of facts about him, but it’s not
an obit. But this might help you with some
He moved here from North Carolina when he was a little
boy, and he lived in the same house until he passed.
He took care of his mother and father until they
passed away. His mother got him into the habit of
taking cod liver oil every day to keep his heart
healthy. He wanted to be a trumpet player, but his
folks wouldn’t let him (they were afraid he’d get TB.)
He went into the army during WWII, and he often speaks
of the Battle of the Bulge. Even though he told me he
spent most of his time in the laundary company, I
think he was there at that battle. When he got out of
the army, he was a “burner” (a welder).
He started playing the sax kind of late in life, when
after he got after the army. He was able to take
music classes on the GI Bill. The rest is history -
sixty years all over town. He came up alongside many
of the greats in Philly – Coltrane, etc. But guys
like Gene Ammons and Eddie Lockjaw Davis were
favorites of his – “Melody Men”, as he called them.
Nate thought that too many Bee Bop musicians didn’t
respect the medlody of songs, and played around too
much on stage. He’d say, “If you wanna practice, do
that at home. People come out to hear these songs -
to hear the music.”
I’m sure you know he was notorious for coming up and
blowing his horn behind a kid or a musician he thought
was playing a solo too long or too free. He’d get
onry on that bandstand. He made all his musicians
wear tuxes and nice suits. He ran a tight ship.
He loved the sound of the Hammond, because it allowed
a small band to sound like a full orchestra. Even
though Nate ran a small band, he used “head
arrangements”, maximizing 3 musicians to sound like a
swinging band. He was always trying to capture the
sound of Basie or Ellington with a small number of