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Teddy Wilson (1912 - 1986)

Teddy Wilson is not only remembered as one of the greatest jazz pianists in history but as one of the first blacks to become a member of a white band. When he joined Benny Goodman in 1935, he played not only with the big band but also in a trio with Goodman and drummer Gene Krupa. The small group recordings were exceedingly well received and a year later vibraphonist Lionel Hampton made it a quartet. Wilson also arranged small group sessions with Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, and, most famously, Billie Holiday with whom he took jazz in a new direction. Their collaboration represents some of Holiday’s best work.

Wilson studied piano and violin at Tuskegee Institute, and his playing was characterized as elegant, dexterous, imaginative, and swinging. He had played in other bands before joining Goodman and made a name for himself with Benny Carter’s Chocolate Dandies.

Wilson left Goodman in 1939 to lead his own large and small groups before settling into a predominately solo career and teaching at Julliard. Poised and refined, he appeared several times in films including Hollywood Hotel (1938) and The Benny Goodman Story (1955). Wilson reunited with Goodman in 1944–45 for The Seven Lively Arts show.

-- Sandra Burlingame

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