Exploring Music's Complexities

Theodore Shaw Wilson (Teddy Wilson)

Jazz Great, Teddy Wilson


Just over a year ago Wonder of Sound discovered  copies of previously unpublished live performances by three jazz greats: Teddy Wilson, Dorothy Donegan, and Ruby Braff.  To date we have restored the Teddy Wilson and Dorothy Donegan (to be released on May 12, 2015) performances.  Even if you are not a jazz lover, you will want to take a listen to a track from the Teddy Wilson, Live at the King of France Tavern, 1978.  The alum is available from our distributor Allegro-music.com, our website, Wonder of Sound (www.wonderofsound.com) or iTunes under the title of “Live at the King of France Tavern.”

Buy It




It has been said great jazz musicians are hard to define as their music describes the era in which they performed (1). Like Rock, their music reflects the social changes and times in which they lived.   Teddy Wilson was one of those early jazz musicians who achieved greatness along with Earl Hines, Count Bassie and Duke Ellington. If you are a jazz lover, you probably recognize the name Teddy Wilson. For those of you who don’t have a clue, this newsletter will provide an introduction to one of America’s jazz greats.

Theodore Shaw Wilson was born on November 24th, 1912 in Austin, Texas and moved to Tuskegee, Alabama when he was six. There, he began his musical journey with the violin. He eventually switched to the piano while attending Talladega College, located in Talladega, Alabama. It was here he modeled his style after Earl Hines. His first professional spot was playing with Speed Webb whose band included a young Roy Eldridge. This collaboration prompted him to move to Chicago in 1931 (1).

While living in Chicago, he played with trumpeter Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, and the Erskine Tate Orchestra. His next move took him to New York in 1933. Here, he played informally with Benny Goodman until he officially joined the Band in 1936. He was also a member of Benny Carter’s band, The Chocolate Dandies, in 1935 (2).

While with the Goodman Band, he was part of a trio with Goodman and drummer Gene Krupa. These recordings became quite popular. A year later vibraphonist Lionel Hampton made it a quartet (2). At this time, he was one of the first black musicians to appear with white musicians (1).

In the late 39s and early 40s Wilson acted as Billie Holiday’s musical director. He also recorded with Billie Holliday in the 1930s to produce some of her best works (3). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncVRMPU_y2M&list=PL6A07EDB82DD433BD&index=9b (4).

Wilson’s relationship with Goodman concluded in 1940 when he formed his own band. Unfortunately, his big band never succeeded while his performances in small group settings were popular, and he recorded several albums for the Mosaic label. In the 1950s, he taught at Julliard School of Music and Metropolitan School of Music. In the 1960s, Wilson rejoined Benny Goodman for tours and concerts.

Wilson became a popular jazz pianist as a result of his break from “Stride” pianists who came before him. In the Stride style of piano playing the left hand “strides” between bass notes or (rolled 10ths) on beats 1 and 3 of a 4/4 measure and chords and chords around the middle of the keyboard on beats 2 and 4.   Notable stride players were Art Tatum and “Fats Waller An example can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Cs_zb4q14 (5).

Wilson was known for being a very elegant, smooth player. His touch was very light and fluid, and he utilized the full range of the keyboard (6). Rather than using his left hand to provide a beat he used his very large hands to develop a style that used two and three note voicing that were impossible for most pianists (6).

Because these chords were easy to play on the guitar using the 6th and 3rd strings, guitarists were able to emulate these harmonies.   They also were able to incorporate his middle voice on the 4th string. Thus, today, three note “Teddy Wilson” chords form the foundation of big band rhythm guitar voicing (6). In addition, by playing 10ths with his left hand and omitting roots Wilson was able to create bass lines similar to those that a bass player would play (7). Check http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/teddy-wilson/id118623 to become more familiar with Wilson’s style of playing that pretty much sounded the same throughout his long career.


  1. Stein, Sammy. Great Jazz Musicians, August 2010. http://www.helium.com/items/1935160-great-jazz-musicians
  1. http://www.jazz.com/encyclopedia/wilson-teddy-theodore-shaw
  1. Berlinger, Sandra, Teddy Wilson, Theodore Shaw Wilson, Pianist, Bandleader, Violinist. (1912 – 1986). http://www.jazzbiographies.com/Biography.aspx?ID=211. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncVRMPU_y2M&list=PL6A07EDB82DD433BD& index=9.
  1. Beals, Charles. Jazz Piano from Scratch. Hal Leonard Corporation, Milwaukee, Wi, 2002.
  1. http://www.freddiegreen.org/technique/mp_compare.html
  1. http://www.blues-and-jazz-piano.com/teddy-wilson.html

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Categorised in: Music Theory, Performers

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