Teddy Wilson

Photo of Teddy Wilson
  • Birth Name

    Theodore Shaw Wilson
  • Born

    November 2, 1912
    Austin, Texas
  • Died

    July 31, 1986 (age 73)
    New Britain, Connecticut

Many crit­ics con­sider Teddy Wilson one of the great­est jazz pi­anists of all-time. Influenced by Earl Hines, he later de­vel­oped a style all his own. His early record­ings were per­cus­sive and force­ful, but as he ma­tured his tech­nique be­came grace­ful, al­most el­e­gant. He was a gifted artist who used the full range of his in­stru­ment to his ad­van­tage. His record­ings with Benny Goodmans trio and quar­tet dur­ing the 1930s are con­sid­ered clas­sics.

Wilson stud­ied mu­sic at both the Tuskegee Institute and Alabama’s Talladega College. He worked in Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, with Speed Webb and Milton Senior be­fore mov­ing to Chicago, where he played with the likes of Erskine Tate, Eddie Mallory, Clarence Moore, Jimmy Noone and Louis Armstrong. He trav­eled to New York in 1933 to join Benny Carter’s or­ches­tra, the Chocolate Dandies. After Carter dis­banded the fol­low­ing year to take a po­si­tion as arranger with Goodman’s band, Wilson worked with an all-star group led by Red Norvo and with Willie Bryant’s band, where he stayed into 1935. He met Goodman that year and in 1936 was asked to join the band­lead­er’s trio, which also in­cluded drum­mer Gene Krupa. Lionel Hampton joined soon af­ter, mak­ing it a quar­tet. Wilson be­came the first African-American pub­licly fea­tured in Goodman’s line-up.

During his time with Goodman, Wilson put to­gether sev­eral small groups for record­ing ses­sions. These ses­sions fea­tured such artists as Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Ward, and Harry James. Wilson left Goodman in 1939 to form his own big band, which in­cluded such top mu­si­cians as Doc Cheatham, Ben Webster, Rudy Powell, and Hal Baker. Thelma Carpenter pro­vided vo­cals. Wilson’s sub­tle style failed to win over au­di­ences, how­ever, who of­ten com­plained that his or­ches­tra sounded too white.” He dis­banded the group af­ter only a year and formed a sex­tet that played reg­u­larly at the Cafe Society in New York from 1940 to 1946.

After 1946, Wilson worked mostly as a soloist or in a trio. In 1946, he be­came a staff mu­si­cian for CBS ra­dio and op­er­ated his own mu­sic school. He taught at Juilliard in the early 1950s, be­com­ing one of the first jazz mu­si­cians to do so. Reuniting with Goodman oc­ca­sion­ally, he trav­eled with the King of Swing on his 1962 tour of the Soviet Union. He also toured with his own or­ches­tra in 1957. Teddy Wilson passed away in 1986.


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  • All My Life
    Teddy Wilson (Ella Fitzgerald), Brunswick (1936)
  • Melancholy Baby
    Teddy Wilson (Ella Fitzgerald), Brunswick (1936)
  • But Not For Me
    Teddy Wilson (Helen Ward), Columbia (1940)

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