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Teddy Wilson: The Complete Verve Recordings Of The Teddy Wilson Trio

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The 1930s were rife with jazz pianists of unprecedented and rarely surpassed originality, all the way from early stride masters James P. Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith through Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie to the boogie woogie giants, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. But no one in those years scaled the heights of popularity among both jazz cognoscenti and the public at large as quickly as did Teddy Wilson. The first black jazzman to be featured with a white swing band, indeed the best and most widely exposed of them all, Teddy soared to a position of national recognition and acclaim during his tenure with Benny Goodman, his incomparably polished, lyrical, and swinging contributions to the trio and quartet recordings, concerts, and broadcast appearances, as well as his own solos and series of dates with Billie Holiday, continually adding to his longstanding reputation among musicians. Tellingly, despite the commercial failure of his own highly musical 1939-40 orchestra, upon disbanding he once again struck gold with an all-star swing sextet that he maintained successfully through 1944. Widely recorded as a sideman during the mid-’40s, Wilson appeared on many Keynote dates with Coleman Hawkins and even participated in Red Norvo’s historic “Swing To Bop” session on Comet with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, Slam Stewart, and J.C. Heard.

Apart from this singular association, though, Wilson never chose to embrace the “new music.” For more than a decade a self-assured jazz stylist, he saw no reason to adapt to changing trends, even though some of his contemporaries-most notably Hawkins, Don Byas, Artie Shaw, Norvo and Goodman-were making various moves in that direction between the mid- and late ’40s. Essentially a conservative, Wilson stuck to his guns throughout the remainder of his career, resisting influence from both the popularly supported styles of George Shearing, Erroll Garner and Dave Brubeck as well as the more exciting, provocative avenues paved by Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and, later, Bill Evans. Even on the copious 1952 to 1957 recordings assembled here one will not hear so much as a single phrase borrowed from bop. But it is important to remember that Wilson’s harmonizations of popular song material, while never avant garde, were always considered modern, at least within the framework of his times. Although not conceived as such, these recordings are almost a retrospective of prime, stylistically definitive Wilson, as pristine and undefiled as he was in the ’30s and ’40s, but with the added edge of superior, high fidelity sound quality and top-of-the-art rhythm sections.

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