Society & Culture

Teddy Wilson and the Swing Era Vocalists

Midway through Billie Holiday’s plaintive 1941 recording of “Jim,” there is a short piano solo barely 25 seconds in length—not even a full 32-bar chorus—by Teddy Wilson.  “Jim” is largely forgotten today, but Wilson’s lightly swinging interpretation of the melody is typical of his elegant, rhythmic playing, exemplary for its Swing Era sensibility, and neatly brings Holiday back in to complete her rendition of this underrated but touching tune.

The single moment thought to have officially touched off the arrival of jazz’s Swing Era had occurred some six years earlier at the famous Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on August 21,1935, a month into what had been a lackluster cross-country tour by the Benny Goodman Orchestra.  The band had been playing “stock” dance-band tunes and many in the audience at an earlier Denver engagement had even demanded refunds.  At the Palomar, Goodman and drummer Gene Krupa, disappointed in the crowd’s lukewarm response on this opening evening of a three-week booking, decided that, if failure was inevitable, they should at least play what they felt.  Two sets into the evening, they abruptly switched from the stock charts they had mistakenly thought the audience wanted to a series of uptempo arrangements of tunes like “Blue Skies,” “King Porter Stomp,” and “Sometimes I’m Happy,”...

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