In Memory of Doug Willson

August 19, 1935 – March 14, 2002

photographs by George Wale circa 1978

Doug Willson, a talented string bassist/ flugelhorn player died at home on March 14. Doug was a good friend of myself and Stuart Broomer and, sometimes was featured as a guest artist on our Toronto concerts in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and, at that time (due to a hand injury), he usually played the flugelhorn. Mostly, to me, he was a good friend and, a guy who always encouraged me to stick with the music. Dougie stayed with the music for HIS entire life and, we should always take the nod from him in that respect. Don’t worry Dougie – I won’t ever give it up.

Upon hearing of Dougie’s passing, Stu Broomer quite simply said to me, “Doug was one of the nicest men that you could ever hope to meet”. Stuart, since he is a writer, is usually a lot more wordy, but, that comment really says it all.

When I lived in Toronto and I worked in a “Sam The Record Man” store at the corner of Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue, Stuart Broomer used to drop in on me at noon and, we would go for lunch and, Doug Willson used to drop in on me in the afternoon when he knew that I was not busy and, he and I would discuss Jazz. Obviously, those guys were a bit older than me. Besides my interest in Rock ‘n’ Roll, I was always a huge Thelonious Monk fan and, I was developing a cool Jazz department for the store, with the blessing of the store’s owner. I learned a lot about Jazz from listening to Doug and Stuart. Eventually, Doug and I both moved out of Toronto, but, we stayed in touch on the phone and, the e-mail. I will always remember our discussions and, he and I especially loved to discuss the music of Albert Ayler. Ayler had had a huge impact on the both of us.

Doug Willson had quite an involvement in music. In 1963 Doug was awarded a scholarship to study at the Advanced School Of Contemporary Music in Toronto under the tutelage of Oscar Peterson, Oscar’s usual bassist Ray Brown (who just passed away recently) and , Oscar’s drummer Ed Thigpen. Doug was apparently one of Ray Brown’s favourite students. Later, as Doug’s career developed, he toured as bassist for pianist Teddy Wilson (ex-Benny Goodman main man), during the time that Ed Thigpen was drummer for Teddy’s group (mid-1960’s).

Doug worked in some of the more conservative Jazz styles such as the turn-of-the-century New Orleans Jazz style when he spent some time with Jim Galloway’s Metro Stompers. Surprisingly, he can be heard as the bassist on the 1967 Centennial/Expo year hit “Canada” – a 45rpm single by Bobby Gimby on Capitol Records which Doug wrote the b-side of (“Canadian Theme”). Doug Willson also did extensive gigs with the exploratory Canadian Jazz guitarist Sonny Greenwich. On September 22 of 2002, the Music Gallery in Toronto presented a special concert in Doug Willson’s memory.