Teddy Wilson Shines in 1980 Session

Wilson 1

TEDDY WILSON REVISITS THE GOODMAN YEARS / G. & I. GERSHWIN: ‘Swonderful. J. SPIKES-R. SPIKES-BENJAMIN: Someday, Sweetheart. SNYDER-WHEELER: The Sheik of Araby. YOUMANS-ROSE-ELISCU: More Than You Know. SCHOEBEL-MEYERS-KAHN: Nobody’s Sweetheart Now. HICKMAN-WILLIAMS: Rose Room. WINFREE-BOUTELJIE: China Boy. YOUNG-HARRIS: Sweet Sue. HUDSON-DeLANGE: Moonglow. McHUGH-FIELDS: Exactly Like You. BURWELL-PARISH: Sweet Lorraine. J. & M. SCHOENBERGER: Whispering. Bonus tracks: LEWIS-HAMILTON: How High the Moon. WALLER-RAZAF: Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now. SAMPSON-GOODMAN: Don’t Be That Way. GERSHWIN-MacDONALD-DeSYLVA: Somebody Loves Me. W.C. HANDY: St. Louis Blues. DePAUL-JOHNSTON-RAYE: I’ll Remember April /Teddy Wilson, pno; Jesper Lundgaard, bs; Ed Thigpen, dm / Storyville SVL 6017011 or 1018364, also available for free streaming on Spotify

Wilson 2The superb album, in my view the very best Teddy Wilson session ever made, was recorded in one day on June 15, 1980. As you can see, his supporting cast was Swedish bassist Jesper Lundgaard and American drummer Ed Thigpen, a veteran of the great Andy Kirk big band of the 1930s. Yet there seems to be a disconnect between what I got to review—12 tracks, all of which appeared on the original 1982 LP release—and the download-or-streaming copy of this disc, which sports a blue cover instead of a brown one and has six extra tracks on it. The intricacies of the record business continue to baffle and confuse me!

Yet, as I say, this is the best Teddy Wilson album ever made. And why do I say that? Am I discounting all the decades in which he played not only with Benny Goodman but also with Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton and many others? No, not at all. I value many of those recordings as well. But for most of his career, Wilson was under-recorded, a kind of soft, ambient kind of piano guy in the background, playing at virtually one volume level and never really standing out, even when he soloed. When I saw him in person, playing with Goodman in 1967, I got the same impression. For most of his career (not all of it, of course), Wilson was miked rather softly.

But here, the mike is right on top of him, so for once you can hear all the nuances of his playing, and you suddenly realize that he did play with dynamic contrasts. His piano tone rings out crisply, as if every note and phrase was played on a xylophone. And his improvisation skills are as good as ever. Coming out of Earl Hines and Art Tatum, Wilson simplified what they did and made it the very essence of swing. He was kind of the bridge between Fats Waller and Nat Cole, who in turn influenced Bud Powell who influenced…well, you get the drift.

In addition, Lundgaard is a superb bassist whose playing is a bit more harmonically advanced than Wilson’s, which keeps the pianist on his toes from start to finish.

And you may think me a churl for saying this, but it’s actually a blessing in my view that he ISN’T playing with Goodman here. Whether in studio recordings or live settings, I always got the impression that Teddy was just a bit overwhelmed by Benny, who was a very aggressive soloist—not just that he sometimes hogged the solo space on a record, but that his goal, when he came in, was to one-up you, well, maybe even double-up you. Wilson, with his easy smile and who-gives-a-shit attitude, just laid back and let Benny steamroll him. Here, he is the master of his own house, so to speak, and the difference is noticeable. He lets Lundgaard one-up him, but this one-upmanship is just a notch or two. Lundgaard does not by any means steamroll over Wilson.

Thigpen is also a more sensitive drummer than Gene Krupa was in 1935-38, when he played with the Goodman band, trio and quartet. This was partly Benny’s doing: he liked the way Gene socked the drums with his big band, and so encouraged him to do the same with the trio and quartet. When I saw the Goodman Trio in 1967, Gene played his own way and the difference was quite startling—not too dissimilar from the way Thigpen plays on this album.

I highly recommend this album in either format!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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