"Jazz Counterpoint," a 1985 series of half-hour presentations with host Billy Taylor interviewing fellow pianists, is being rerun on the Bravo channel. Two of the more interesting shows, with Teddy Wilson and Tommy Flanagan as guests, are running tonight and Friday respectively at 9:30 p.m.
A swing-era pioneer, Wilson came to prominence as a member of the Benny Goodman Trio. His poised, symmetrical style became a model for many pianists in the late 1930s and through the '40s, but over the decades he showed signs of physical and musical deterioration, and his performances suffered. The program was taped a year before his death.
As the close-ups make clear, Wilson apparently had lost the use of his right forefinger, perhaps due to arthritis. He gets through a "Porgy and Bess" medley pleasantly, but on the other tunes Taylor tactfully helps him out by dueting with him, offering needed rhythmic support. The conversation about Wilson's background and influences goes smoothly; predictably, Earl Hines, Art Tatum and Fats Waller are mentioned as his sources of inspiration.
Both Taylor and his guest are more at ease on the Flanagan program. The veteran soloist, an orchestrally inspired stylist, plays with typical grace and harmonic beauty on his own "Minor Mishap" and Tadd Dameron's "Smooth as the Wind." Ironically, he speaks of Teddy Wilson as a major influence, though his technique and harmonic development are clearly more fully fleshed out.
Taylor's own solo contribution, "Willow Weep for Me," is a highlight. The two keyboard giants join forces for "Our Delight," "Ornithology" and a closing blues.
A new series of "Jazz Counterpoints," introducing some of the many important artists who have risen to prominence since 1985, would be welcome, with Taylor, one of television's most articulate and musically gifted hosts, again in charge.