Teddy Wilson

Teddy Wilson

From Wikipedia
Teddy Wilson
Teddy Wilson (William P Gottlieb).jpg
Teddy Wilson at the Turkish Embassy,Washington, D.C., 1940
© William P. Gottlieb
Background information
Birth name Theodore Shaw Wilson
Born November 24, 1912
Austin, Texas
Died July 31, 1986 (aged 73)
New Britain, Connecticut
Genres Jazz
Occupations Pianist
Instruments Piano
Associated acts Louis Armstrong
Earl Hines
Billie Holiday
Lester Young
Lena Horne
Benny Goodman

Theodore Shaw “Teddy” Wilson (November 24, 1912 – July 31, 1986)  was an American jazz pianist. Described by critic Scott Yanow  as “the definitive swing pianist”, Wilson’s sophisticated and elegant style was featured on the records of many of the biggest names in jazz including Louis ArmstrongLena HorneBenny GoodmanBillie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. With Goodman, he was perhaps the first well-known black musician to play publicly in a racially integrated group. In addition to his extensive work as a sideman, Wilson also led his own groups and recording sessions from the late 1920s to the ’80s.


Wilson was born in Austin, Texas, on November 24, 1912. He studied piano and violin at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. 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 HorneHelen Ward and Billie Holiday, including many of 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 YoungRoy EldridgeCharlie ShaversRed NorvoBuck Clayton, and Ben Webster.

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. Wilson performed in benefit concerts for The New Masses journal, for Russian War Relief and he chaired the Artists’ Committee to elect Benjamin J. Davis).  In the 1950s, Wilson taught at the Juilliard School. Wilson can be seen appearing as himself in the 1955 motion picture The Benny Goodman Story. He also worked as music director for the Dick Cavett Show.

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.

Wilson died in New Britain CT, on July 31, 1986; he was 73. He is buried at Fairview Cemetery in New Britain, Connecticut.

Wilson at a Benny Goodman rehearsal, 1950

Select discography

  • 1949: Teddy Wilson Featuring Billie Holiday
  • 1956: I Got Rhythm
  • 1956: Pres and Teddy
  • 1959: “Gypsy” in Jazz
  • 1972: With Billie in Mind
  • 1972: Moonglow (Black Lion)
  • 1973: Runnin’ Wild (Recorded live at the Montreux Festival) (Black Lion)
  • 1976: Live at Santa Tecla
  • 1980: Teddy Wilson Trio Revisits the Goodman Years
  • 1990: Air Mail Special

As sideman:

  • 1933-1942: Billie Holiday, The Quintessential Billie Holiday (Volumes 1-9)
  • 1935-1939: Benny Goodman, The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings
  • 1938: Benny Goodman, The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert

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