Teddy Wilson: Solo / Big Band
Solo / Big Band
Teddy Wilson will always be primarily known for his work with the Benny Goodman band and the reliable piano accompaniment he provided for it on many classic records. After the big band era, although he teamed up with Goodman again from time to time, the majority of Wilson's career was spent leading his own ensembles. This 8CD (and 1DVD) box set canvases Wilson's entire career, from his first efforts leading his own big band and on to the latter part of his performing life, when he stuck mostly to trios. Given the amount of music on the discs, you might think that this could be a career defining retrospective, the only Teddy Wilson box that anyone would ever need.
Except that it isn't. For one thing, Wilson is represented by a large amount of recordings of marginal quality, in the form of live radio broadcasts and live performances, that make it hard to appreciate what he had to offer. Also, as good as he was in the Goodman band, Wilson lacked the depth and direction needed to front his own groups successfully. He was often upstaged by the performers in his band (saxophonist Ben Webster here, singer Billie Holiday on recordings not included), and his piano playing, while enjoyable, became diluted through imitators to the point that it sounds an awful lot like cocktail music in 2010 (to be fair, many other pianists, including Bill Evans, suffered the same fate as they watched their styles mimicked into a cliché by lesser hands.)
The box set (oddly named, for most of the recordings are neither solo nor big band) couldn't start off worse. There are a handful of selections of Wilson's brief excursion in leading his own big band, and it's disappointing to hear how sweet his band was coming from the hot Goodman outfit. Strictly dull in the vein of Glen Gray, and they never found much of an audience. Afterwards comes a series of solo piano recordings used as the introductions to radio programs or as filler materialuneventful renderings of popular songs with no improvisation.
Things start to pick up quickly once Wilson began to work with smaller ensembles. Once musicians like trombonist Benny Morton, clarinetist Edmond Hall, bassist Slam Stewart and drummer Big Sid Catlett appear, you can expect some good blowing, and the front line quickly takes the reins. Too bad the recording quality isn't better; Catlett might as well be punching sofa pillows for all the fidelity his drums have.
The rest of the set is largely trio recordings, and Wilson is backed by a more modern rhythm section that really push him to swing a little bit and cast off his ballroom demeanor. Discs 3 and 4 are largely made up of live recordings from the 1950s and it's clear that Wilson has some personal favorites that he returns to often, like "'S Wonderful." The highlight of the box set is recordings from The Teddy Wilson Show, a radio program that features Wilson with special guests, in this case, greats like saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. The tracks are filled with masterful improvising from the guests and Wilson proves he's one of the more adept at offering support. It's a shame that more from this show don't survive; it would have made a terrific box set.
The final three discs from the set are from the late 1970s and early 1980s, lean years for jazz unless you were in Europe as Wilson was. These three discs are more of the same; polite renditions of standards with nothing to break a sweat. They are the best sounding recordings of the set, but among the least interesting: comfortable, somewhat monotonous music for the bar crowd.
Teddy Wilson may have made some good records, but this set features marginal recordings from his career, poor in quality and boring in musicianship. It has the feel of being at a lame party when you can hear a great one going on next door. There are flashes of greatness here, but the great stuff is elsewhere.
Tracks: CD1: Little Things That Mean SO Much; I Know That You Know; Stairway to the Stars; Exactly Like You; The Man I Love; Booly-Ja-Ja; Back To Back; Body and Soul; Lonesome Road; Dear Old Southland; Little Things That Mean So Much; A Ghost Of a Chance; Sunday; More Than You Know; Summer's End; Goin' Home Blues; Minute Steak; Sugar; At Sundown; Tuesday Jump; The Moon Is Low; Afternoon Blues; Little Things That Mean So Much; You're My Favorite Memory; Rhythmatics; Almost Blues; Tempo Positioned; Out Of Nowhere; Night and Day; Oh! Lady Be Good; Jumpin' Off. CD2: You Will Be Sorry; Chinatown, My Chinatown; Twilight Blue; Love Is the Sweetest Thing; Rose Room; Why Shouldn't I; Flying Home; Indiana; Embraceable You; A Touch of Boogie Woogie; B-Flat Swing; Don't Be That Way; Honeysuckle Rose; Mop Mop; I've Got Rhythm; Rose Room; Oh! Lady Be Good; The Way You Look Tonight; Stompin' At the Savoy; You're My Favorite Memory; The Sheik of Araby. CD3: Love; Strollin' Flying Home; King Porter Stomp; Medley: Serenata/When Your Lover Has Gone/Avalon; Summertime; You Can Depend On Me; I Ain't Got Nobody; All of Me; Liza; Medley: Sweet Lorraine/Body and Soul/I've Got the World On a String/April in Paris; Runnin' Wild; Basin Street Blues; Flying Home. CD4: Sweet Georgia Brown; Dinah; Body and Soul; I Know That You Know; I'm Confessin'; Whispering; It's the Talk Of the Town; Speculation; China Boy; Theme: Sunday Morning; Bye Bye Blues; My Man; Lover Come Back to Me; How High the Moon/Theme: Sunday Morning; Theme: Sunday Morning; Nobody's Sweetheart; Blues For Trombone; I Would Do Most Anything For You; Runnin' Wild; I Never Knew/Theme: Sunday Morning; Theme/Theme: Sunday Morning/Runnin' Wild; Tenderly; Just One Of Those Things; Moon Glow; Autumn In New York; All of Me; Tea For Two/Theme. CD5: After You've Gone; Memories of You; China Boy; Whispering; Body and Soul; The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else; Poor Butterfly; Runnin' Wild; Flying Home; I've Got the World on a String; Just One of Those Things; Stomping at the Savoy; Air Mail Special; Basin Street Blues; I've Got Rhythm; Liza; It Had To Be You; Someone To Watch Over Me; Three Little Words; Tea For Two; Avalon; You're Driving me Crazy. CD6: Honeysuckle Rose; I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter; Medley: I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling/Ain't Msibehavin'; St. Louis Blues; Medley: In A Sentimental Mood/Mood Indigo; Perdido; Satin Doll; Take The "A" Train; Body and Soul; Basin Street Blues; Avalon; Moon Glow; I'll Remember April; Who Cares; Someone To Watch Over Me; S' Wonderful. CD7: S'Wonderful; Someday My Sweetheart; The Sheik of Araby; More Than You Know; Nobody's Sweetheart; Rose Room; China Boy; Sweet Sue; Moon Glow; Exactly Like You; Sweet Lorraine; Whispering; How High The Moon; Keeping Out Of Mischief Now; Don't Be That Way; Somebody Loves Me; St. Louis Blues; I'll Remember April. CD8: Shiny Stockings; Undecided; Like Someone In Love; Imagination; I Hadn't Anyone 'Til You; Fools Rush In; Tea For Two/Wilson talks; Body and Soul/Wilson talks; After You're Gone; Medley: I Can't Get Started/Moon Glow; Sweet Georgia Brown/Wilson talks; Shiny Stockings; Li'l Darling; One O'Clock Jump/Wilson talks; Medley: It Ain't Necessarily So/Bess, You Is My Woman/Summertime; But Not For Me/Wilson talks; Sophisticated Lady; Duke Ellington Medley: In A Sentimental Mood/It Don't Mean A Thing; Billy Strayhorn Medley: Lush Life/Take the "A" Train.
Collective Personnel: Teddy Wilson: piano; Karl George, Harold "Shorty" Baker, Gene Price: trumpets; Jake Wiley, Floyd "Stumpy" Brady: trombone; Rudy Powell: clarinet, alto sax; Pete Clark: alto sax, clarinet, baritone sax; Ben Webster: tenor sax; George Irish: tenor sax, clarinet; Al Casey: guitar; Alfred Hall: bass; J.C. Heard: drums; Thelma Carpenter: vocals; Emmett Berry: trumpet; Benny Morton: trombone; Edmond Hall: clarinet; Slam Stewart: bass; Big Sid Catlett: drums; Arvell Shaw: bass; Bert Dahlander: drums; Charlie Shavers: trumpet; Red Norvo: vibes; Remo Palmieri: guitar; Specs Powell: drums; Walter Page: bass; Jo Jones: drums; Milt Hinton: bass; Kai Winding: trombone; J.J. Johnson: trombone; Hank D'Amico: clarinet; Dizzy Gillespie: trumpet; Coleman Hawkins: tenor sax; Gene Ramey: bass; Al Lucas: bass; Bobby Donaldson: drums; Hugo Rasmussen: bass; Ed Thigpen: drums; Jesper Lundgaard: bass; Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen: bass; William Schiopffe: drums.