Teddy Wilson Trio with Jo Jones: Complete Studio Recordings

Three-CD set contains four mid-1950s albums by a pianist who shaped a formidable technique into unshowy but condensed melodic creativity

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Wilson’s reputation first climbed into high prominence in 1933. Still only 20, he worked and recorded with Louis Armstrong and Benny Carter. He had already befriended and learnt from Art Tatum, Earl Hines and Fats Waller, subbing on occasion. In 1935 he commenced recording prolifically with Billie Holiday, advising on tune selection and recruiting and organising the varying stellar small-group backings. (“We must have made some 200 sides together,” Wilson later mused.)

The 1930s were his golden years. In 1936 he joined Benny Goodman, facing the racist media furore over this unprecedented black/white teaming with reassuring, cool dignity. His impeccable playing in the legendary trio and quartet recordings cemented his fame. After leaving Goodman in 1939, and the demise of his own short-lived big band, he continued to work extensively, mainly with small groups for over four more decades. 

The 57 tracks on this three-CD compilation album cover the four complete studio albums for Verve which his trio made in the mid-50s with Basie’s legendary long-time drummer, Jo Jones (For Quiet Lovers, I Got Rhythm, The Impeccable Mr. Wilson and These Times Remind Me Of You). In addition there are eight very enjoyable earlier tracks featuring Wilson and Jones in Teddy’s old associate Benny Carter’s trio.

“For Quiet Lovers” suggests dreamy romantic mush but the repertoire seems a touch ambiguous and tongue-in-cheek (Blues For The Oldest Profession, Birth Of The Blues and three very fast, bright tracks including Who’s Sorry Now!) However, Wilson, with his customary melodic invention, meticulous execution and smooth swing, strolls seemingly effortlessly through some fine ballad interpretations, notably You Took Advantage Of Me and When Your Lover Has Gone, none in ultra-slow tempo, however.

Whilst there are no exuberant displays of showcase keyboard wizardry like those from Tatum and Hines, Tatum’s influence is discernible in the occasional fleet-fingered decorative ripples and richly nuanced harmonic structure, and Hines in the rendering of melody line in clean-cut sharp relief; and Fats is surely there in Teddy’s assured mastery of the medium-bounce tempo. His own unique input lies perhaps in a formidable technique suffused into unshowy but condensed melodic creativity, suggesting continuous organic unity in each short track, rather than just successive stand-alone choruses.

In the following albums, aimed perhaps at a wide listening market, he interprets with unfailing taste and artistry a range of popular songs and ballads, always respecting and eliciting the full melodic appeal before enhancing it with his own creative development. You’re Driving Me Crazy, Laura, Poor Butterfly, How Deep Is The Ocean and Have You Met Miss Jones are prime examples of his relaxed ballad style. In contrast, sizzling uptempo versions including I Got Rhythm, Limehouse Blues, I Want To Be Happy, Fine And Dandy and I Found A New Baby swing out in driving style, harking back to Goodman days, and seasoned with feisty breaks from Jo Jones’ vigorously inventive brushes.

Wilson settles throughout for undemonstrative all-round excellence of performance but doesn’t bother to apply his advanced skills as an arranger much. The arrangements of these shortish tracks (mainly 3-4 minutes) are all straightforward, predictable even, and unvarying. Yet it hardly seems to matter as the sheer quality of the music unfolds. And in the final interesting and very enjoyable set with the equally talented Benny Carter, himself a distinguished arranger, the clever and more detailed arrangements feature impressive rapport between the two stars in collective riff figures and breaks, notably so in Jeepers Creepers and Rosetta. Jo Jones, unfortunately, seems a little under-recorded, but all in all these closing tracks are a joy, and give a final further boost to an outstanding album. Both as a soloist and renowned accompanist, Wilson is rightly considered one of the masters of jazz piano.

Discography
CD1: [For Quiet Lovers] (1) Blues For The Oldest Profession; It Had To Be You; You Took Advantage Of Me; Three Little Words; If I Had You; Who’s Sorry Now?; The Birth Of The Blues; When Your Lover Has Gone; Moonlight On The Ganges; April In Paris; Hallelujah; Get Out Of Town; [I Got Rhythm] (2) Stompin’ At The Savoy; Say It Isn’t So; All Of Me; Stars Fell On Alabama; I Got Rhythm; On The Sunny Side Of The Street; Sweet Georgia Brown; As Time Goes By; Smiles; When Your Lover Has Gone; Limehouse Blues (76.15)
CD2: Blues For Daryl; You’re Driving Me Crazy; [The Impeccable Mr. Wilson] (3) I Want To Be Happy; Ain’t Misbehavin’; Honeysuckle Rose; Fine And Dandy; Sweet Lorraine; I Found A New Baby; It’s The Talk Of The Town; Laura; Undecided; Time On My Hands; Who Cares?; Love Is Here To Stay; [These Tunes Remind Me Of You] (4) When You’re Smiling; The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise; I’ve Got The World On A String (66.37)
CD3: Whispering; Poor Butterfly; Rosetta; Basin Street Blues; How Deep Is The Ocean; Just One Of Those Things; Have You Met Miss Jones; It Don’t Mean A Thing; (5) Little Girl Blue; June In January; Jeepers Creepers; Rosetta; The Birth Of The Blues; When Your Lover Has Gone; The Moon Is Low; This Love Of Mine (67.39)
Wilson (p) and Jones (d) on all tracks with: (1) Milt Hinton (b). NY, 1 January 1955. (2) Gene Ramey (b). NY, 5 March 1956. (3) and (4) Al Lucas (b). NY, 13 September 1956. (5) Benny Carter (as). NY, 20 September 1954.
American Jazz Classics 99139