Teddy Wilson on view
Teddy Wilson's centennial is today. I've put together a trio of performance clips to mark the occasion. Notwithstanding his stature as one of the most influential pianists in jazz history and a player who achieved household name status during the Swing Era, there's a surprising paucity of footage on Wilson.
Here he is in 1963, at age 51, as inventive and uncluttered as ever, playing "Honeysuckle Rose" with bassist Jim Atlas and the great Jo Jones on drums.
"Honeysuckle Rose" composer Fats Waller was one of Wilson's two primary pianistic models; Earl Hines the other. Wilson and Hines played "All of Me" together at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1965. The two-piano format was not new to Teddy. In 1931, he succeeded Art Tatum in Milt Senior's band in Toledo following a dispute between Tatum and a nightclub manager at the Chateau La France. Tatum found work elsewhere around his Ohio hometown, and the two young pianists became fast friends and often played after-hours clubs and private homes. Wilson remained one of the most authoritative sources on Tatum's playing in the years before he began making records and maintained that while Tatum never acknowledged Hines, according to Teddy he "was much influenced by him."
One of the few times I saw Wilson was the two-piano concert he played with Dave McKenna at Symphony Hall in Boston on July 8, 1982. This ideal pairing spun off the seasonal rounds of residencies that McKenna and Wilson traded with each other at the Copley Plaza 30 years ago. Teddy spent his final years living in New Britain, CT and playing at Shenanigan's in Hartford. He died on July 31, 1986 at the age of 73.
Wilson famously integrated the Benny Goodman Trio when he appeared with BG and Gene Krupa at the Congress Hotel in Chicago in 1936 and became the first black musician to appear in public with prominent white players. But how's this for irony? Had it not been for the strict segregation practices of the printing unions of that era, Wilson would have become a linotyper, a trade he'd mastered at Tuskegee, where his father taught history and his mother was the librarian. I'm so grateful he took the path of least resistance. Here he is on a reunion with Goodman, Krupa and Lionel Hampton.