Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 24 Nov. '12, Austin TX; d 31 July '86, New Britain CN) Pianist and leader. Studied piano and violin at Tuskegee Institute; to Detroit '29, Chicago '31; played with Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone; joined Benny Carter, played on his Chocolate Dandies dates '33. Advanced the money by Helen Oakley to go to New York, he recorded with Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa '35, went on tour with Goodman in the trio, which became a quartet with Lionel Hampton, helping to make history as the Swing Era's first integrated group. By this time his style of single-note lines, infl. by Earl Hines and Art Tatum but immensely sophisticated in its understated way, made him the most infl. pianist since Hines; but eschewing obvious flash caused him to be underrated. His first piano solos '34 were rejected by the label as 'monotonous', but then he was contracted by Brunswick to make records quickly and cheaply for juke boxes with pickup groups, hiring the best players from whichever band was in town (Henderson, Basie, Ellington) and led scores of small-group record dates '35--42 for Brunswick labels, incl. instrumentals, famous vocals by Billie Holiday but also vocalists Lena Horne, Helen Ward, Sally Gooding, Nan Wynn, Jean Eldridge, Thelma Carpenter (d 9 May '97 aged 77), others (see below): about 50 were hits '35--8, some listed under both his and Holiday's names in Pop Memories. (In later years he was bitter that so many of his best records were regarded as Holiday's: he had chosen the tunes with her, hired the musicians and paid them; it was his name on the label and the vocalist was just another soloist.) Among the biggest hits were 'Carelessly', many others with Holiday; 'Where The Lazy River Goes By' (vocal by Midge Williams), 'My Melancholy Baby' (Ella Fitzgerald), 'Remember Me?' (Boots Castle). Nearly all were made in NYC, but LA dates '37 yielded hit instrumental 'You Can't Stop Me From Dreaming' and an unusual quartet session with Wilson, Red Norvo on xylophone, Harry James on trumpet, John Simmons on bass: 'Just A Mood' (two sides), 'Honeysuckle Rose' and top ten 'Ain't Misbehavin''.

He left Goodman '39, led his own fine big band for a year which was not much recorded, writing some arrangements himself; played in NYC with a sextet '40--44; lived there the rest of his life, teaching (each summer at Juilliard '45--52), broadcasting, occasionally recording, playing in clubs, touring overseas. Rejoined Goodman occasionally (Seven Lively Arts on Broadway '45, film The Benny Goodman Story, quartet reunion LP on RCA '63, etc), had his own radio show and worked on staff at CBS mid-'50s.

CDs on Edinburgh's Hep label present excellent transfers by John R. T. Davies of the small-group sides from July '35 through Jan. '39: Too Hot For Words, Warmin' Up, Of Thee I Swing, Fine And Dandy, Blue Mood and Moments Like This. Eight CDs of Teddy Wilson on Classics begin with the '34 solos and end '39--41 with big-band tracks, more solos and vocals by Horne and Ward; Billie Holiday compilations on Classics, Affinity, Columbia and others incl. more made under her name. Ten piano solos plus alternative takes made '38--9 for the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists, a mail-order scheme which flopped, were later owned by Commodore and have been available on various labels; radio broadcasts '43--5 with all-star sidemen are on Central Avenue Blues on VJC. Later LPs incl. Gypsy and Mr Wilson And Mr Gershwin on Columbia; For Quiet Lovers, I Got Rhythm, Impeccable Mr Wilson, Intimate Listening, all on Verve, as is Prez And Teddy '56 with Lester Young, Vic Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, Freddie Green, Jo Jones and bassist Gene Ramey, virtually re-creating the '30s small groups. (Mosaic issued the complete Verve trio recordings '52--7 on five-CD set '97 incl. new and rare tracks.) Others: sextet compilations from '44--7 with Charlie Shavers, Red Norvo, Buck Clayton etc on Musicraft (Isn't It Romantic and Everytime We Say Goodbye); solo With Billie In Mind '72 on Chiaroscuro; on Black Lion: Striding After Fats, Runnin' Wild, Cole Porter Classics, Stompin' At The Savoy, Moonglow (many now on CD); Revisits The Goodman Years on Storyville, other reissues and compilations on Musidisc, ASV, Sackville etc. Alone '83 on Storyville may have been his last recording, chatting to a live audience about how to stay interested in 'Body And Soul' and essaying boogie-woogie on 'One O'Clock Jump'. 'Autobiography' Teddy Wilson Talks Jazz compiled from interviews was years in the making, finally published '96.