Teddy Wilson Day

November 24, 1912 – July 31, 1986

 

A birthday tribute to the definitive swing pianist

Pianist Theodore “Teddy” Wilson was born on November 24, 1912 in Austin, Texas.

Wilson studied clarinet, oboe, violin and piano and attended the Tuskegee Institute, eventually choosing to concentrate on the piano.

He picked up early experience playing with Speed Webb’s orchestra (1929-31), settling in Chicago and working with Erskine Tate, Eddie Mallory, Jimmie Noone, and Benny Carter, and recording with Louis Armstrong’s big band in 1933.

Inspired originally by Earl Hines and Fats Waller, Wilson began to display his own style while with Willie Bryant (1934-35).

In 1935, Wilson became famous as the pianist with the Benny Goodman Trio (and the following year Quartet), becoming one of the first African-American jazz musicians to be featured regularly with an integrated group.

Also in 1935, Wilson started leading all-star recording sessions which frequently featured Billie Holiday along with other swing greats.

While his swinging piano, which was smooth, flawless and relaxed no matter what the tempo, became very influential, and his recordings with Goodman and Holiday were renowned, his solo career started off a bit rough with his 1939-40 big band barely surviving a year.

However Wilson flourished at the head of combos for decades that ranged from a 1940s sextet to trios, occasionally having reunions with Benny Goodman.

Although he lived until 1986, his piano style was virtually unchanged after 1935.

Here is Teddy Wilson performing “Honeysuckle Rose” with his trio in 1963.

-Scott Yanow

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