|when he was at his peak as a performer, although he continued to record through the
end of 1968. Born in Austin, Texas, on November 24, 1912, Teddy Wilson studied
piano and violin at Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama. His first recording was as
a member of Benny Carter’s Chocolate Dandies in 1933, one track from that session,
Once upon a Time, being the first on this CD. His first recording under his own name
was a solo effort on the small specialist Meritt label in May of 1934. His last recording
was made in the Metronome Studios, Copenhagen, Denmark, in December of 1968,
where he was accompanied by three Danish musicians.
In the 1930’s he recorded frequently with the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet,
reuniting with Benny Goodman on several occasions, including a tour of the U.S.S.R.
in 1962 and the Newport Festival in 1973, both recorded, and a Carnegie Hall concert
in 1982, unrecorded. He continued to perform, both as a soloist and as leader of a trio
consisting of himself and two of his sons, Theodore Wilson (bass) and Steven Wilson
(drums), until shortly before his death in 1986.
Wilson was perhaps the quintessential swing piano player, and among others he
played with Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers, Red Norvo, Buck Clayton, and Ben
Webster at one time or another. However, when he began playing with the Benny
Goodman Trio in 1935 and officially joined it in 1936, he began to gain wide
recognition that was cemented by the recordings put out by the Goodman Trio and
Quartet in 1936 and following years. Regrettably only a few tracks by these groups
appear on this CD, namely More Than You Know and Sweet Lorraine by the trio and
Handful of Keys by the quartet.
Other than on his own solo recordings, Wilson fared best in small group settings where
his contributions of backing for others and his own solo efforts were clearly central.
He always leaned toward restraint, not attempting to dominate or overpower any other
player. The small group setting allowed for this, and one can enjoy his explorations of
the full keyboard and his runs up and down its length, as well as his stride-influenced
left hand to accompany the light melodic phrases of the right, nicely illustrated on the
last track, China Boy. There is an overall delicacy to his phrasing. This is also
apparent in his accompaniments to the singers. He was one of Holiday’s favorite
accompanists and there are some four tracks here that illustrate his sympathetic
obbligatos behind her.
While the majority of the tracks on this CD list “Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra,”
only a few tracks feature big bands of ten or more pieces. Most are by sextets, septets,
or the occasional octet, and as one will see from the notes given in the accompanying
booklet, his groups contained some prominent names in the musical world, musicians
such as Harry James, Bobby Hackett, Johnny Hodges, and Lester Young, to mention
only a few. While very listenable, these aggregations lack the drive of other bands of
the period, such as Goodman’s or Webb’s, for example. Wilson himself seemed to
recognize this since the big band was short-lived, and after 1945 he no longer recorded
with an “orchestra” but as soloist or with small groups, most of which were trios.
Although influenced considerably by Tatum and Hines, among others, Wilson never
attained their statures. Despite his forays into band leading and his heading up trios
under his own name, he will probably always be remembered most for his work with
the Goodman small groups—and that is not a bad memorial at all.
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