Teddy Wilson - piano
Dean Riley - bass
Benny Barth - drums
Kai Winding - trombone
One of jazz's elite pianists, Teddy Wilson introduced his smooth, sophisticated style during the 1930s while in the Benny Goodman Trio. He would subsequently lead his own bands, work with a variety of singers including Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and Helen Ward, and do sessions with such jazz greats as Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, and Ben Webster. But his main notoriety came from his association with Goodman, and he returned to that material often throughout his long and illustrious career.
Wilson opens his Great American Music Hall set on March 18, 1977 with an exuberant boogie-woogie flurry on the keys, leading into a heated up-tempo blues jam that allows the pianist to show off his considerable stride skills on the keys. The tune, supported by Dean Riley's insistently walking bass and Benny Barth's slick brushwork on the snare drum, eventually morphs into a workout on Count Basie's theme, "One O'Clock Jump." A medley of tunes associated with the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet kicks off with a lively rendition of the catchy "Stomping at the Savoy" and continues with tasty versions of "I Can't Get Started" and "Moonglow." He puts an ebullient spin on his swinging rendition of "Don't Be That Way," a tune composed in 1935 by Chick Webb Orchestra alto saxophonist Edgar Sampson and popularized in 1938 by the Goodman Orchestra. The trio then launches into an up-tempo burning rendition of "After You've Gone," a pre-1920 jazz standard tune popularized in the mid '30s by the likes of Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, and the team of European jazz stars Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli during their classic run with the Hot Club of France. Wilson really stretches out on this chops showcase, revealing Art Tatum-like facility on the keys while retaining his signature sense of style and grace. Drummer Barth also turns in a crowd pleasing brushes solo on this effervescent romp. Wilson's trio concludes its appreciation of Goodman with a tune from the 1939 quartet, Lionel Hampton's catchy swinger "Flying Home."
Turning his attention to maestro Duke Ellington, Wilson turns in a stellar solo piano medley that includes "Sophisticated Lady" before the trio moves into "Satin Doll." His unaccompanied rendition of Ellington's gorgeous "Prelude to a Kiss" is a harmonic highpoint of the set (if too brief). The trio then swings lightly and politely (as Duke used to say) on a sparkling interpretation of "Perdido," which features some crisp, rapid-fire exchanges of eights between Wilson's piano and Barth's brushes. Wilson and the trio are then joined by a special guest, the bop-influenced trombonist Kai Winding, for a swinging take on the Tin Pan Alley nugget, "It Had to Be You." They next interpret two numbers associated with Billie Holiday, the gorgeous "Easy Living" and a swing-fueled up-tempo romp through "I Cried for You." Winding remains for a version of Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone" and the set ends on a rousing note with a spirited reading of the jazz jam vehicle, Charlie Shavers' "Undecided."
The son of an English professor at Tuskegee Institute, Wilson was born on November 24, 1912 in Austin, Texas. He grew up studying piano and violin. Pianist Earl Hines was an early inspiration and by the time he was a teenager Wilson could emulate his role model's sophisticated stride technique on the keys. After working in the Lawrence "Speed" Webb band and with Louis Armstrong's band, Wilson joined Benny Carter's Chocolate Dandies in 1933. He became a key member in Benny Goodman's mixed-race trio (with drummer Gene Krupa) in 1934. The trio expanded to a quartet in 1935 when Goodman added the extroverted and virtuosic vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.
Wilson formed his own short-lived big band in 1939, then led a sextet at Café Society from 1940 to 1944 and subsequently taught at Juilliard from 1945-1952. He continued to perform as a soloist and in trios around the world until the final years of his life. He died on July 31, 1986. (Milkowski)