Teddy Wilson by Bob Melvin

There are as many piano styles as there are keys on a piano, from bar-rel house to chamber Jazz. In between there is Dixieland, rag time, boogie woogie, stride, swing bop and the many derivatives of each. Some pianists stayed in one of these styles in order to remain popular with the paying public, Most of the great jazz piano players were adept at these many facets of jazz and some were monumental in their ability. These would include Art Tatum, Earl Haines, Oscar Peterson, Billy Kyle and yes, Teddy Wilson. To those of you who have only come in contact with Teddy Wilson’s music through the sounds of the Benny Goodman Quartet, you have missed the music of a many-talented man whose musical output was vast. His talent matched his output. Yet even with this great body of work he is still relatively unknown by the public because he was by nature not a flamboyant performer.
Theodore Shaw Wilson was born November 24, 1912 in Austin, Texas. His parents were James and Pearl Wilson who were school teachers. There was an older brother, Gus, who was 14 months senior to Teddy. When Ted was six years old, the family moved to Tuskegee, Alabama.
Wilson attended school there and along with his studies played clarinet in the school band. He was interested in music arrangement in his senior years and upon graduation entered Talladega College. He spent one year there majoring in ‘music theory’. In 1929, upon completion of the term, he journeyed to Detroit. He took the piano seat in the Speed Webb Band, joining his brother who played trombone there. Both Gus and Teddy took up arranging duties for the band. Band members included Roy Eldridge (T), Vic Dickenson & Gus Wilson (TR). Teddy stayed with the Webb Band until early 1931. He then moved to Chicago to play with the Erskine Tate Band in 1932.
While there, Teddy met Irene Armstrong (no relation to Louis). She led a small band in which she played piano. They became serious and soon married.
Wilson met Art Tatum and the two of them became friends. They spent hours discussing the techniques and harmonics of music. Wilson ab-sorbed much of what Tatum put forth.
Teddy moved from the Tate Band to Clarence Moore‘s Band that was then playing at the Grand Terrace Ballroom. Next he went to Louis Armstrong’s Big Band from January to March of 1933 only to move on the Jimmy Noon’s Band at the Chicago Lido before moving to New York in October of 1933.