Today is the birthday (11/24/1896) of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the infamous NYC Mafia gangster….but I’ll leave the celebrating to murder, mayhem and mobster lovers. I’m a jazz lover, and it’s my lucky day because I get to celebrate the birthdays of my favorite jazz pianist, Teddy Wilson (1912) and my favorite ragtime composer/pianist, Scott Joplin (1868).
Teddy and Scott who, you ask? Well, they were (and remain) unsurpassed in their artistry, but I forgive your unfamiliarity, because Wilson’s renown failed to survive the post-WWII pop music climate change and subsequent rock revolution, and Joplin was underappreciated even in his own time.
There have been many great jazz pianists, but Teddy Wilson has long been my favorite. I could try to explain why, but why add more superlatives to this entry in Roger Kinkle’s THE COMPLETE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC AND JAZZ 1900-1950:
Master jazz pianist. Consumate artist with flawless taste, delicate touch and ideas, subdued, relaxed and easily identifiable style. Prominence middle to late 30s with Benny Goodman combos. Same period led combos on dozens of classic jazz record dates. Acme of relaxed, swinging combo jazz. Billie Holiday featured predominately on vocals.
Here is some of that great Teddy Wilson/Billie Holiday “magic”:
Scott Joplin pioneered ragtime music. His most famous compositions were MAPLE LEAF RAG (1899) and THE ENTERTAINER (1902). Those songs may not ring a bell, but you’ve heard them if you saw the great Paul Newman/Robert Redford film THE STING (1973) — every song on the Academy Award-winning soundtrack was a Scott Joplin rag and helped spark a national revival of his ragtime music. He died in 1917, a few years after the failure of his African-American opera Treemonisha, which was revived to well-deserved acclaim in 1972. Here are clips from that wonderful production: