Daily Archives: April 28, 2021

ISLANDS OF WISTFUL CALM: TEDDY WILSON ASKS COLE PORTER’S QUESTION

This is not the most famous of Cole Porter’s songs, nor the most heralded of Teddy Wilson’s performances. But I found myself humming it — silently — the past few days, and thought I would remind myself and you of these moments of beauty. The three-note downward motif is not complex, but it ensnares the listener, and the bridge is so lyrical that it startles on first hearing or rehearing. The version I have permanently embossed on my brain is Lee Wiley’s, but when I turned to the solo piano inventions here — Teddy at his thoughtful best — I was entranced.

Here, from a 1939-40 transcription session:

Here, for Musicraft Records, in 1946:

It’s easy to caricature the most obvious facets of Wilson’s style: the rapid tempos, walking-tenths basslines, the magnificent right-hand arpeggios, but at this tempo, the beauties of his style — sedate, grave, respectful but rhythmic — are evident. Teddy, like his colleagues of the early Thirties, knew how to honor the melody while spelling out the harmonies, and to create new melodies from those harmonies. Elegance, grace, and feeling, all in place from his introduction to Louis’ I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING. The ease of his performance, less violent than Hines, or room-filling like Tatum, could lead someone to believe that it was easy to do, but having spent some time attempting to reproduce four measures of his introduction to I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS from the 1928 “School for Pianists” recordings, I assure you that even when he simplified his style, he was creating magic. And these two performances, exploring Porter’s melody without the “smart” lyrics, have a wistful grace.

And, just because Miss Wiley’s version didn’t leave my mental soundtrack either, here she is at an Eddie Condon concert (Ritz Theatre, March 17, 1945) with Joe Bushkin, piano; Sid Weiss, string bass. That the top notes are slightly beyond her reach only adds to the poignancy of her rendition):

“Why shouldn’t I”? indeed. And not just me.

May your happiness increase!