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Wilson, Sir (James) Steuart

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Wilson, Sir (James) Steuart

(b Clifton, 22 July 1889; d Petersfield, 18 Dec 1966). English tenor and administrator. He had music lessons from C.B. Rootham at Cambridge University, 1908–11, and in 1911 he sang Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge for the Oxford University Music Club, so pleasing the composer that he wrote his Four Hymns for him. War injuries during his army service affected one lung and permanently damaged his health, but he resumed his singing career in 1918, playing a leading part in the formation of the English Singers. He took further lessons in 1921 from Jean de Reszke, and rapidly went to the forefront of British singers, with special success in The Dream of Gerontius and as the Evangelist in the St Matthew Passion. He made concert tours in the USA, Canada and Australia, appeared with the British National Opera Company, in Mozart operas at the Old Vic Theatre, and in the Glastonbury Festival operas by his friend Rutland Boughton. In 1937 he used damages awarded him in a libel action to sponsor the first London production of Boughton’s The Lily Maid, which he also conducted.

Wilson became well known as a perceptive judge at competitive festivals and, on retiring from active singing, began a new career as an administrator. He taught at the Curtis Institute, Philadelphia (1939–42), and returned to England to become music director for BBC Overseas Services (to 1945), music director of the newly formed Arts Council of Great Britain (from 1945), and in 1948, when he was knighted, director of music for the BBC. He moved to Covent Garden as deputy general administrator of the Royal Opera House, 1949–55, and was principal of the Birmingham School of Music, 1957–60, but this was an unhappy episode. With A.H. Fox Strangways, Wilson published numerous translations of lieder; he also made English translations of The Creation and Brahms’s German Requiem, and contributed many articles to music magazines. On a recording made in 1927 during a performance at the Royal Albert Hall, London, he sings in extracts from The Dream of Gerontius conducted by the composer. He also recorded Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge and songs by Denis Browne.


M. Stewart: English Singer (London, 1970)


Wilson, Teddy [Theodore Shaw]

(b Austin, 24 Nov 1912; d New Britain, CT, 31 July 1986). American jazz pianist. He grew up in Tuskegee, Alabama, and briefly studied music at Talladega College. After working in Chicago with Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone and others he moved to New York in 1933 to join Benny Carter’s band. He played informally and recorded in a trio for Victor with Benny Goodman in 1935 (notably Body and Soul) and officially joined Goodman’s trio the following year, thereby becoming one of the first black musicians to appear prominently with white artists. Wilson remained with Goodman until 1939, playing on many of the latter’s small-group recordings and also on recordings under his own name with other important swing musicians, above all Billie Holiday and Lester Young (including Mean to me, 1937, Bruns.). After leaving Goodman he briefly led his own big band (1939–40), and thereafter worked primarily as a leader of small ensembles and as a soloist. Around 1950 he was an instructor at the Juilliard School in New York, an early instance of the recognition of jazz by an important conservatory. He frequently rejoined Goodman for reunions, most notably for a tour of the USSR (1962), an appearance at the Newport Festival (1973) and a concert at Carnegie Hall (1982).

Wilson was the most important pianist of the swing period. His early recordings reveal a percussive style, with single-note lines and bold staccatos, that was indebted to Earl Hines; but by the time of his first performances with Goodman he had fashioned a distinctive legato idiom that served him for the rest of his career. Wilson’s style was based on the use of conjunct 10ths in the left hand; by emphasizing the tenor voice and frequently omitting the root of the chord until the end of the phrase he created great harmonic refinement and contrapuntal interest. For the right hand he adapted Hines’s ‘trumpet’ style, playing short melodic fragments in octaves, frequently separated by rests and varied with fleet, broken-chord passage-work. He used the full range of the piano, often changing register or texture to underscore formal divisions. His poised, restrained manner and transparent textures are especially evident on his solo recordings from the late 1930s (for example, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, 1937, Bruns.), which served as models for countless pianists in the late swing period. From 1940 Wilson’s playing became somewhat florid, with frequent pentatonic passage-work, but he retained his basic approach and prowess into the 1980s.


L. Feather: The Book of Jazz: a Guide to the Entire Field (New York, 1957, 2/1965)

J. Mehegan: Jazz Improvisation, ii: Jazz Rhythm and the Improvised Line (New York, 1962), 80–82 [transcr. of ‘Sweet Sue–Just You’]

J. Mehegan: Jazz Improvisation, iii:Swing and Early Progressive Piano Styles (New York, 1964), 15–19 [transcr. of ‘The Best Thing for You is Me’]

J. Simmen: ‘Le grand orchestre de Teddy Wilson, 1939–1940’, Bulletin du Hot Club de France, no.201 (1970), 10–14; no.202 (1970), 10–13

D.M. Bakker: Billie & Teddy on Microgroove, 1932–1944 (Alphen aan de Rijn, 1975)

S. Dance: The World of Earl Hines (New York, 1977), 183–6

J. McDonough: ‘Teddy Wilson: History in the Flesh’, Down Beat, xliv/4 (1977), 17–18

D. Hyman: ‘Thinking about Teddy Wilson’, Keyboard, viii/9 (1982), 59 [incl. transcr.]

L. Lyons: The Great Jazz Pianists: Speaking of their Lives and Music (New York, 1983), 59–82

G. Schuller: ‘The Great Soloists: Teddy Wilson’, The Swing Era: the Development of Jazz, 1930–1945 (New York, 1989), 502–13

T. Wilson: Teddy Wilson Talks Jazz (Ann Arbor, 1996)

Oral history material in US-NEij and Talladega College, Talladega, AL.


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