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Teddy Wilson: The Legendary Small Groups, Vol. 1

Having issued fourteen CDs in a “complete edition” of Billie Holiday and three of Teddy Wilson backing other girl singers, this French label now begins a project devoted primarily to instrumental recordings by Wilson. Can you beat that? It shows a genuine and serious respect for the music that compares more than favorably with the thinking behind the careless “best of” collections and miscellanies showered on the American public today. Of course, the legal and moral aspects of the public domain ruling that makes such feats possible in Europe are something else, but said feats certainly merit praise for keeping fine music available.

The first volume contains 25 performances recorded between 1935-37, including two takes each of “I Found a New Baby,” “Coquette” and “You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming.” An amazing number of the period’s major musicians is heard, among them Roy Eldridge, Frank Newton, Jonah Jones, Cootie Williams, Harry James, Buck Clayton, Buster Bailey, Benny Goodman, Johnny Hodges, Chu Berry, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Harry Carney, Stuff Smith, John Kirby, Israel Crosby, Walter Page, Cozy Cole, Sid Catlett, Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo. The amount of melodic statement on many of the tracks — even of many hoary standards — may surprise some of today’s younger listeners, but the records were made with one eye on the juke-boxes, which in those days accounted for a sizeable proportion of sales.

Teddy Wilson’s dates didn’t pay big money, but he nevertheless had his choice of the best musicians, depending on which bands happened to be playing in New York. He told me more than once how he appreciated having Johnny Hodges as much as any of the vocalists. Hodges, after all, could sing better than most of them on his horn! He’s here on four titles. Roy Eldridge is on five, including the complete “Blues in C Sharp Minor” session with Israel Crosby and Catlett. Jonah Jones and Harry James are each on three sessions, and Mouse Randolph’s thoughtful trumpet chorus impresses on “Tea for Two.” Cozy Cole, then obviously Wilson’s favorite drummer, appears a dozen times. In short, an unusually varied and rewarding program by genuine stars.

Originally Published