I think I’ve been in the classroom — sitting in a student desk or perched on top of the desk at the front of the room — for ninety percent of my life. And as someone who went straight through from grade school to graduate school, I have very little desire to go back to school. I would be a bad student, shifting in my chair, drawing in my notebook, thinking “I could do this better.”
And — in parallel — the signs in stores and online ads that proclaim BACK TO SCHOOL in yellow and red (the colors of pencils and erasers) are not cheering to me: they haven’t been for a long time.
But if I could enroll in any program on earth in September 2011, it would be this one:Because of the fame he had won as a member of the Goodman small groups, Teddy Wilson started this enterprise in 1938. From what I can gather, the records were made available to students, who also bought text — explaining certain subtleties of what Wilson was playing and why — so that they, too, could walk their tenths or perfect their arpeggios. I picture young men and women in their basements or rec rooms, listening hard to a particular four-bar passage on their recording, trying to duplicate it at the keyboard. Not easy!
The music on this 78 (and perhaps eighteen other performances, including unissued takes) was not readily available to people not enrolled in the program. A bootleg 10″ lp on the Jolly Roger label offered six or eight sides in the Fifties, and perhaps twenty-five years later Jerry Valburn issued all the sides on the Merrit Record Society label, and they have come out on CD, divided between the Classics and Neatwork labels. They are fascinating interludes in the Wilson discography, for it seems that after he had recorded a few sides that would be issued on Brunswick 78s, he then took additional studio time to record several selections for his School for Pianists. (I can’t call all the titles to mind, but I remember I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, LOCH LOMOND, TIGER RAG, MY BLUE HEAVEN, THAT OLD FEELING . . . )
When I encountered him at close range (in 1971), Wilson was the very definition of taciturn. Not impolite, but hardly warm. But if I could sit in any classroom, I would fill out my program to be in Professor Teddy’s class, hoping that I could make my fingers move in a Wilsonian fashion.