Welcome to Basin St. to Birdland!

by mikeconklinmusic


I thought that since I mentioned how Billy Kyle‘s approach was reminiscent of Teddy Wilson, I would address the man himself!

As a someone who is consumed with jazz piano, I have spent countless hours, days, weeks, (ok, years)…listening to the development of jazz piano. And for me, Teddy Wilson is one of the greatest players in the history.

Teddy Wilson presented a light, lyrical touch that absolutely exuded a sense of elegance and refinement. He had absolute control over the dynamics of the entire range of the piano and understood completely when to exercise that judgment. Although in an interview with Marian McPartland, Wilson humbly dismissed his abilities to accompany others, “I feel like my playing gets in the way,” he, but pure documentation, was an exquisite accompanist.

Before I tackle Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra (with Billie Holiday) on What a Little Moonlight Can Do, on Brunswick 7498, I wanted to provide some insight on his foray into the limelight. Here’s pianist Jimmy Rowles, accompanist for Holiday during the 1950s, talking about his introduction to Teddy’s playing. The segment, from Ken Burns’s Jazz © series, continues with the development of Benny Goodman’s trio (where he was among the first in jazz to integrate a jazz band!):

I decide on What a Little Moonlight Can Do for several reason. First of all, it is a swinging number with an all-star aggregate. Secondly, the interaction between the band is stellar! And then, there’s Billie…

Some background on the tune: What a Little Moonlight Can Do is a popular song written by Harry M. Woods in 1934. It was originally recorded by Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra on July 2, 1935. Peggy Lee covered it with a Nelson Riddle arrangement on her 1959 album Jump for Joy. The form of the tune is a little less traditional with an ABCD structure.

Here’s the line-up:

Roy Eldridge, trumpet / Benny Goodman, clarinet / Ben Webster, tenor sax / Teddy Wilson, piano / John Trueheart, guitar  / John Kirby, bass / Cozy Cole, drums / Billie Holiday vocals. Recorded on: New York, July 2, 1935.

Here’s the tune:

OK, so like I said — it’s a hot, swinging number!

Teddy kicks it off with an introduction. Goodman blows through the tune at a ridiculous tempo with the rhythm section supporting him; afterwards, he solos aggressively  yet tastefully on form.

Billie comes in at the top, swinging as only she can do — ever so slightly behind the beat. How it magically creates a wonderful sense of  tension!

Ben Webster takes his turn at blowing over the changes. He had such a warmth and depth to the timbre of his horn — so very much his own. I love it!

Teddy solos for 16 measure and then the entire band kicks in to close the tune. Hot stuff!!