Alec Wilder’s “Blackberry Winter”: Marlene VerPlanck and Keith Jarrett

American composer Alec Wilder (1907-1980) was a maverick and an eccentric whose music defied categorization.

Born in Rochester, New York to a prominent family, Wilder was largely self-taught. For a few years, he studied composition and counterpoint privately at the Eastman School of Music, but he felt confined and stifled by the rules of the academy. As a young man, he moved into the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, an enclave for prominent artists and writers, and traveled extensively. Wilder’s songs were promoted by Mitch Miller and Frank Sinatra. He collaborated closely with numerous jazz singers, but also wrote chamber music, operas, musical theater music, and film scores. To get a sense of the unconventional nature of Wilder’s music, look no further than the 1951 Jazz Suite for Horns and Harpsichord, or a quirky collection of Octets from 1955. Unconcerned with commissions or promotion, Wilder remained a shy and reclusive figure.

The song, Blackberry Winter, with lyrics by Loonis McGlohon, was written in 1976. The title refers to a brief late-spring cold snap that can occur throughout the southern United States after the blooming of blackberry vines. Wilder recalled that the melody came to him while he was casually improvising at the piano during a visit with McGlohon:

Something I played pleased him so I worked out the idea into a full length melody. He expressed interest in putting a lyric to it. I was convinced that my rhythmically unconventional devices would seriously hinder any attempt to find adequate words. Not at all. Mr. McGlohon, in his usual impeccable taste, found all the right words even if the phrase ‘blackberry winter’ is unfamiliar to Northerners.

Jazz vocalist Marlene VerPlanck included this performance on a 1986 album dedicated to Wilder’s songs:

The wistful melody also inspired this improvisation by Keith Jarrett:


  • Marlene VerPlanck Sings Alec Wilder Amazon
  • Priceless Jazz Collection: Keith Jarrett Amazon

Featured Image: photograph by Virginie Blanquart

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

1 thought on “Alec Wilder’s “Blackberry Winter”: Marlene VerPlanck and Keith Jarrett”

  1. Marlene was a superb stylist and one of the greatest interpreters of song. She is much missed by lovers of our kind of music.


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