Mr. Wilson spent much of his career as a soloist or leader of his own small combos, but rose to prominence during a four-year stint with the Benny Goodman Orchestra.
”What I got out of playing with Teddy was something, in a jazz way, like what I got from playing Mozart in a string quartet,” the late Mr. Goodman once said of the pianist.
Mr. Wilson played first in the Goodman trio, with Mr. Goodman on clarinet and Gene Krupa on drums, and later with the full band. The group was later expanded to a quartet and a sextet, eventually including Lionel Hampton on the vibraphone and Charley Christian on guitar. Among the First Blacks
In joining Mr. Goodman, Mr. Wilson was among the first blacks to appear with white musicians.
Equally adept in a big band’s rhythm section or as a soloist, Mr. Wilson was also an outstanding accompanist to vocalists, most notably Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey.
Mr. Wilson was born in Austin, Tex., on Nov. 24, 1912, the second son of James and Pearl Wilson, teachers at Samuel Houston College. The family moved to Alabama six years later; his father became head of the English department and his mother the librarian of Tuskegee Institute.
Mr. Wilson learned piano in grade school and played with a dance band in high school, where he also learned oboe, clarinet and violin. He went on to classical music, training for a year at Talladega College in Alabama. A Shift to Jazz
Although Talladega gave him a lifelong love of classical music, jazz moved him even more deeply, and in 1929 he moved to Detroit, where his brother, Gus, had established himself as a trombonist. He began his professional career there as pianist with the Speed Webb band, and played later with the Milton Senior band.
Mr. Wilson played with Louis Armstrong from 1931 to 1933, making his recording debut with the legendary trumpeter. At Benny Carter’s urging, Mr. Wilson left Mr. Armstrong to perform with Carter’s Chocolate Dandies and later with the Willie Bryant Band in New York, before joining the Goodman organization.
- November, 24, 1912
- Austin, Texas
- July, 31, 1986
- New Britain, Connecticut
Cause of Death
- Been ill for some time following intestinal surgery
- Fairview Cemetery
- New Britain,Connecticut