Burt Wilson, trombonist and leader of the Silver Dollar Jazz Band died of Covid-19 on January 6th, he was 87. While in college he arranged activities for the USC Trojan Marching Band. During Army service stationed in Germany (1955-1958), he was a radio announcer and produced entertainments for the troops.
Wilson formed The Silver Dollar Jazz Band with friends while still in high school in 1949. They became the first jazz band to play the original Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Sacramento, starting in 1954. On strict instructions from Shakey, the band modeled its sound on the Lu Watter’s band. They had two banjos but no regular trumpet player. The sextet’s success inspired a wave of pizza parlors and other restaurants to feature traditional jazz bands into the 1970s and beyond.
Jazz historian K.O. Eckland, author of the book Jazz West: 1945-1985, credits the Silver Dollar Jazz Band with igniting the Sacramento portion of the jazz revival, inspiring the formation of the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society in 1968 which, in turn, founded the world-famous Jazz Jubilee. Wilson appeared as a guest artist in many Sacramento Dixieland Jazz Jubilees. He played piano, trombone, ukulele, and sang.
While we will remember him for his place in jazz history he was also a philosopher, writer, broadcaster, political activist, playwright, and former advertising executive. His books included A history of Sacramento jazz, 1948-1966: A personal memoir, and Shakey and Me. In 2004 he produced a documentary called “The Roots of Sacramento Jazz” that was featured in the “A Place Called Sacramento” film festival. Those interested in learning about his amazing life and work outside of jazz are encouraged to read the long entry on his Wikipedia page.