Theodore Shaw “Teddy” Wilson (November 24, 1912 – July 31, 1986) was an American jazz pianist whose sophisticated and elegant style was featured on the records of many of the biggest names in jazz, including Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
“Where or When”
Wilson was born in Austin, Texas in 1912. He studied piano and violin at Tuskegee Institute. After working in the Lawrence “Speed” Webb band, with Louis Armstrong and also “understudying” Earl Hines in Hines’s Grand Terrace Cafe Orchestra, Wilson joined Benny Carter‘s Chocolate Dandies in 1933. In 1935 he joined the Benny Goodman Trio (which consisted of Goodman, Wilson and drummer Gene Krupa, later expanded to the Benny Goodman Quartet with the addition of Lionel Hampton). The trio performed during the big band’s intermissions. By joining the trio, Wilson became the first black musician to perform in public with a previously all-white jazz group.
Noted jazz producer and writer John Hammond was instrumental in getting Wilson a contract with Brunswick, starting in 1935, to record hot swing arrangements of the popular songs of the day, with the growing jukebox trade in mind. He recorded fifty hit records with various singers such as Lena Horne and Helen Ward, including many of Billie Holiday‘s greatest successes. During these years he also took part in many highly regarded sessions with a wide range of important swing musicians, such as Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers, Red Norvo, Buck Clayton and Ben Webster.
“But Not For Me”
Wilson formed his own short-lived big band in 1939, then led a sextet at Café Society from 1940 to 1944. He was dubbed the “Marxist Mozart” by Howard “Stretch” Johnson due to his support for left-wing causes (he performed in benefit concerts for The New Masses journal and for Russian War Relief, and chaired the Artists’ Committee to elect Benjamin J. Davis). In the 1950s he taught at the Juilliard School. Wilson can be seen appearing as himself in the motion picture The Benny Goodman Story (1955).
Wilson lived quietly in suburban Hillsdale, New Jersey in the 1960s and 1970s. He performed as a soloist and with pick-up groups until the final years of his life. Teddy Wilson died on July 31, 1986.
He was interred at Fairview Cemetery in New Britain, CT
“Don’t Be That Way” with Benny Goodman
“Body and Soul”
“What A Little Moonlight Can Do” with Billie Holiday
Sources: wikipedia, youtube. musicsover.com
November 24, 1912 – July 31, 1986
Teddy Wilson was a much respected jazz pianist who came from the great music city of Austin, TX. His smooth-as-silk style could be heard on recordings by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman and Billie Holiday. One of Wilson’s first professional gigs was playing alongside Bennny Goodman and Gene Krupa in the Benny Goodman Trio, later a quartet with the addition of Lionel Hampton. When he joined the trio, Wilson became the first known African-American to perform professionally in public with a previously all-white group. With the help of legendary producer, John Hammond, Wilson recorded some 50 hit records throughout the late ’30s. By the ’40s, he was leading his own sextet, and by the ’50s, he was teaching at Julliard. Wilson spent the last couple of decades of his life quietly enjoying his life close to home until his passing of natural causes on 1986.