Mosaic Records box sets tend to be for collectors and completists; Classic Brunswick & Columbia Teddy Wilson Sessions 1934-1942 is more like a primer on the jazz pianist once regarded as second only to Art Tatum. No, it doesn’t include the dates with Benny Goodman and Billie Holiday that made Wilson famous. It does, however, include Wilson-led sessions that feature Goodman, Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton, not to mention Roy Eldridge, Red Norvo, Ella Fitzgerald and roughly half of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. And it charts the prime of a now too-often-overlooked genius.
Consider: The set begins with Wilson’s first solo-piano recordings, unreleased until 1981. They find him doing impeccable Earl Hines impressions; “trumpet” right, tremolos and octaves permeate “Somebody Loves Me” and “Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away).” From there, we get to hear Wilson work through Hines’ influence in seemingly real time. It’s a dim presence by October 1935’s “Rosetta.” By January 1936, on “I Feel Like a Feather in the Breeze” and “Breaking in a New Pair of Shoes,” he’s his own man, having pared himself down to a melodic core and exercising the relentless swinging—and restraint—that was such a revelation in the era of Hines, Tatum and the Harlem stride masters.