He widened the scope of the trombone, both in technique
and in lyrical quality.
Among the many landmarks of the jazz scene is one that seems destined
to last forever.
Its the trombone artistry of Jack Teagarden. An honest kind
of artistry, Teagardens tromboning is generally credited with having
advanced the instrument to the high level of technical achievement
it enjoys among todays modern musicians, and, at the same time,
has stated a case for the lyrical quality in jazz for the nearly forty
years he has been playing professionally.
Although he once sang a blues line that testified he was born in Texas
and raised in Tennessee. Weldon Leo Teagarden was born in Texas and
raised in Oklahoma. His birthplace was Vernon, Texas, and the date
was August 20, 1905. While still in his childhood he moved to Oklahoma.
His mother gave him early piano lessons, and his father, a bit of
a musician himself, presented Jack with a trombone on his seventh
His brothers, Trumpeter Charlie and drummer Clois, have played on
stand with him, off and on during the decades Jack has been blowing
jazz. Jack spent considerable time as a youth listening to the music
and the hymn singing at Negro religious meetings. Out of this,
its surmised, he drew his earliest feeling for the blues.
He joined the Peck Kelly band in 1921, when he was sixteen years old,
and hasnt been off the scene since. He has played with Paul
Whitemans big band, Benny Goodmans recording groups, Louis
Armstrongs All Stars, Ben Pollocks band, countless groups
and orchestras, many of them under his own leadership. These days,
he leads his own combo, one he has traveled successfully with to the
Far East for the U.S. State Department.
Of this venture, nothing but praise----both musical and personal----rang
from every port of the bands call. The trip covered a grueling
eighteen weeks and as many countries. It was studded with many highlights.
For instance, Jack and crew jammed with the King of Cambodia who as
clarinetist had jammed with his idol, Benny Goodman, when Benny had
toured that area few years earlier.
Also Teagarden tuned the two available pianos in the remote city of
Kabul, Afghanistan, where most of the populace had never seen brass
musical instruments before.
Playing under adverse conditions of weather and health. Teagarden
became ill in Japan, and returned after the tour a very weak and very
sick man. He played the last six weeks of the tour with a serious
hernia, but refused to undergo surgery until the commitments had been
filled and all his dates had been played. He went, it appears, to
superhuman lengths to live up to what he has stated to nearly interviewer:
I try to play what people like. Generally, what people
seem to like is Teagarden.
has a disposition as easy-going as the languid phrases he blows so
often, and as sunny as the warm grin which cracks his face into scores
of merry wrinkles. His is an open face, with character, rather than
age or weariness or boredom etched into it. His voice is midway between
a heavy drawl and an outright yawn. His singing is wry and gutty,
and, again, has a naturally lazy sound.
But throughout his long career Jack has been anything but lazy. It
is well known, that he was rarely content to let his nights
work end when the band trouped off the stand, but would always be
ready for some after-hour sessions. During the recent Playboy Jazz
Festival in Chicago, Teagarden and his gang came into town a couple
of days early to help out on promotion for the event (by appearing
on TV shows, radio interviews, and even a race track where he blew
the call to the post), and to spend some time with many of his old
friends who were playing in Chicagos jazz spots, music his element.
Needless to add, the time Jack and his friends spent together was
quite often on stand. Teagarden seems strangely uncomfortable without
his trombone in hand and at least a rhythm section nearby to back
There have been times when Teagarden didnt need a rhythm section.
One such occasion was recounted by Jimmy McPartland in Hear Me Talkin
to Ya, a book telling the story of jazz in the words of the musicians
who live it.
I was having a couple of drinks With Bud Freeman and Pee Wee
Russell one evening Pee Wee began talking about a trombone player,
the greatest thing he had heard in this life.
We said we would like to hear the guy, and Pee Wee said, right,
lets just pop over and get him. Two drinks later, Pee Wee was
back with the guy, who was wearing a horrible looking cap and overcoat
and carrying a trombone case under his arm.
Pee Wee introduced us. He was Jack Teagarden, from Texas, and
looked it. Fine, we said. Weve been hearing
a lot about you. Would sure like to hear you play.Solo StuffThe
guy says, All right, gets his horn out, puts it together
and blows couple of warm-up notes and starts to play Diane. No accompanist,
just neat. He played it solo, and Im telling you he knocked
us out. He really blew it. And when hed done with that, he started
on the blues, still by himself. We had to agree with Pee Wee, wed
never heard anyone play trombone like that. We were flabbergasted.
Jacks fluency on the trombone has continued to amaze everyone.
Jazz critic Martin Williams recently flipped in print over a solo
passage Teagarden played on a concert recording made well over ten
years ago. While shaking his head in amazement at the creative prowess
of the trombonist, Williams also delineated some of the mans
superb talent. Its the closest thing in print to hearing Teagarden
But perhaps the best introduction to Teagarden at his most brilliantly
melodic, Williams wrote, Is a solo on Pennies from Heaven
that he played with Louis Armstrong at a concert at New Yorks
Town Hall (RCA Victor, LPM 1443). The tune is one that we all know
well (which is a help, of course, and one that Teagarden assumes),
and, for his part of the performance, Jack gets just the first half
of the length of tune, right after Armstrongs vocal course.
Therefore he has to take something shorter than the original, and
make it complete in itself --- yet not so final that what follows
his solo will sound like padding. On the spot, Teagarden invents a
beautiful, original melody, with some brief references to the familiar
tune, but one that is very superior to it in almost every way. It
is also unlike the original since it is complete in itself and not
an uncompleted half of something. It is a beautiful thing,
and I think that anyone who responds to melody can listen to it and
understand its beauty and its originality.
It is for that kind of lyric and melodic beauty that we should
listen to Jack Teagarden, because such are the standards he has set
It is difficult to realize that Teagarden is, after all, largely a
self-taught musician. His formal train- ing has been acquired on the
job. His creative instinct is unerring, rhythmically and harmonic-
ally, and is creatively superb.
The authors favorite Teagarden chorus (and everyone who professes
a liking for jazz must have at least one favorite Teagarden chorus)
is the one Jack plays on Jack Hits the Road, recorded for Columbia
some twenty years ago, In it, Teagarden neatly demonstrates the things
to come on his instrument. Its a relatively simple blues chorus,
but is constructed nimbly and, for the time, is pretty far out. The
ease with which Jack pumps out the smooth overall line of the chorus
as well as the occasional disagreeing spurts of melody, is still a
revelation in the art trombone playing.
Although playing his horn and leading his group occupy most of Teagardens
waking hours, he manages to find time for his family --- wife Addie
and his son Joe --- and for his puttering and tinkering. He has a
natural way with anything mechanical and spends a lot of time plying
his tools in his home workshop. Its a rare day when he opens
his trombone case and hauls out his horn without moving a book or
two on electronics or some phase of mechanics out of the way first.
Teagarden has appeared in movies, has sung on the air and on TV, and
has recorded actually thousands of sides. Among the many tunes which
are his are Basin Street Blues (he and Glenn Miller combines on the
lyrics of the now-famous blues, although neither is credited on the
sheet music), Stars Fell on Alabama, Pennies From Heaven, Rockin
Chair, and Ive Got a Right to Sing the Blues. They belong to
him not because he had a hand in writing them (he didnt) but
because he pops in mind as the singer whenever these tunes are brought
When Jack was in Cambodia, the jazz-loving, clarinet-playing king
of that country presented the trombonist with a medal for meritorious
service to the arts.
Although has received no medals in this country yet; he has achieved
a place of distinction in jazz shared by very few other musicians.
It is in the favor of jazz fans of all schools. Jazz fans are noted
for their fanatical devotion to one jazz movement to the exclusion
of all others. Only the very rare exceptions are universal favorites
among fans of all schools. Teagarden is one of them. That alone is
well worth a chest full of medals.
In addition, he has won legions of musicians as fans, not only because
of his playing but also because of his untiring battle against the
percent tax, which has kept him from singing at many club engagements
in the last decade. He places placards, printed at his own expense,
on tables wherever he appears as a player but not a singer. The placards
urge patrons to write their con gressman protesting the tax which
has hurt the means of livelihood of many musicians and entertainers.
The tax is murder, he says. It isnt only that
I like to sing, but people come to the stand, wanting me to sing,
but people come to the stand, wanting me to sing particular tunes.
It keeps me busy explaining why I cant.
Theres a sentimental streak in Teagarden that immediately warms
an audience, whether it is made apparent in a song or a gracious act
onstage, or even an introduction.
At the Playboy Jazz Festival, Jack introduced the trumpet player in
his group, a fine young musician, Don Goldie, and recalled to the
huge audience that Goldies father had played in a Teagarden
band many years ago. As he spoke about the elder Goldie, there was
a genuine catch in his throat. And when he placed his arm around the
younger Goldies shoulder, there was genuine affection in the
Hes that kind of person
genuine----and unashamedly sentimental.
It comes through in his playing and his singing and the way he lives.
He wouldnt be Jack Teagarden if it came out any other way.
The world of jazz, like any part of show
business, suffers as much from public fickleness as does, say, the
bumbling lyrics of a Presley or Fabian (although one approaches art,
the other embraces the soul of rockn roll). The fact that jazz
personalities share with Broadway, Hollywood, etc., a dependence upon
the momentary enchantment of mass-minded America is an irony in itself,
although perhaps one of the lesser ironies. It is too often for the
jazz musician a case of a quick fling before the footlights, then
There is a select inner circle whose musicianship has defied the censorship
of shifting fashions, and through a special sort of genius created
for themselves a vast, impressive symbol synonymous with their name
Such a man is Jack Teagarden, in the New Orleans vanguard when Dixieland
was in its heyday, and after thirty years still its most enthusiastic
and gifted exponent.
The fact that the 56-year-old singer-musician has survived the chameleon-like
disposition of the public is largely due to the tremendous impact
of his personalitystrong-jawed, smiling, and graciously charming.
Yet much as people like the easy-going Big T, they like
even more the music that, hour after hour, pours languid, unaffected,
strangely absorbed, andsometimeslonesome and full of plain
earthy sadness, into a thousand city nights.. . tunes that jubilant
or oppressive come straight out of the hot, sullen blues country and
have their source in the earliest days of Teagardens youth.
Although gifted with an amazing technical
virtuosity, the curiously mixed scale of feeling Teagarden draws from
his horn has its origin in this childhood heritage. Born in Texas,
raised in Oklahoma, Teagarden grew up in a world richly colored with
Negro folk songs and hymns. Later, searching for style and a kind
of watering spa for his ideas, he drew from the blues a source of
depth that makes his brand of Dixieland distinctive...and clearly
divided from any other.
He had been playing baritone and trombone for nine years in his school
band when at age 16 he walked into the club where Peck Kelley, the
pianist, was rehearsing his band. The musicians thought he was some
kind of gag. Tall, gangling, his horn wrapped in newspaper, Teagarden
asked for an audition. What he did that day with a trombone became
part of the living legend of Teagarden, a feat that replaced the amused
smiles with a deep respect that has been felt since by nearly every
jazz buff who ever heard Teagarden jamming his special kind of music.
Yet, despite his technical facility and
a near phenomenal originality that marks his improvisations, Jack
Teagardens life was, up until 1947 when he joined Louis Armstrong,
a great deal short of ideal. Like many jazzmen of the last era, his
ups and downs were of the extreme kind, and success, both financial
and popular, was all too often the unwilling bedfellow of failure.
After Kelley, with whom he played from 1921 to 1922, others followed,
among them Red Nichols, Paul Whiteman, and finally in mid-47
Louis Armstrong when together the two traded choruses and vocals for
four years across the mikes of countless American nightclubs from
Frisco to The Big Apple.
Many critics believe that Teagardens best years were over when
he left Armstrong in 1951 to form his own group.
The siege of troubled yearsthe mid-thirties through the late
fortiesTeagarden spent as an itinerant jazzman, reckless, unsettled,
always on the lookout for a place to blow his horn. Then in 47
when he joined Armstrong, Teagarden stepped up as top-ranking sideman,
second only to the fabled Satchmo
and more important able for
the first time in his haphazard career to play the music that has
made his name legendary in jazz annals. When in 1951 he left Armstrong
and with his wife Addie, who became business manager, formed the sextet,
he had settled into the life of a responsible jazz musician and family
man with Addie and Joe Teagarden, his newborn son.
One of the surest signs of this newfound responsibility (or perhaps
only a reinstated dignity) was Teagardens tour of the Orient,
under the auspices of the U. S. State Department. With his sextet,
he covered a circuit extending from Hong Kong to Okinawa with concerts
in Bombay, Colombo (Ceylon), Tokyo, and Karachi (Pakistan). As one
columnist put it, his visit was worth ten diplomats. From
a down-on-his-luck jazzman to senior statesman and musician extraordinary,
Teagarden has come up the hard way to stand as one of the truly permanent
figures in American jazz.
Tony Weitzel, Chicago Daily News, January 17, 1964
First time I ever heard Jack Teagarden
blow that big sliphorn was like maybe
1936. The world was full of sitdown strikes and big depression and
govern- ment alphabet soup. And Jack was blowing his big horn around
a shattered segment of the old Keith vaudeville circuit.
He had 14 side men in his band and the band fronted a stage show you
could get in to see for 85 cents if you had 85 cents, which not many
As I said, the big depression was on, and I had just wangled a cozy
WPA job for the best cymbalom player I ever heard. I tried to get
him on the WPA symphony where he deserved to be but the stinking little
bureaucrat who directed the symphony refused to recognize the cymbalom
as a civilized instrument.
So my Hungarian friend went on the book-binding project but he toted
his cymbalom along and the book bindery became the most melodious
WPA project that never got off the ground.
My cymbalom player was truly a fine artist but he did not protest
his ignoble reduction to book binding. His former wife had taken all
the spirit out of him when she sued for divorce and got custody of
the restaurant which supported him and his cymbalom.
But the cymbalom chap did manage to pick the books he wanted to bind,
and the first tome he put back into reading condition was a treatise
on the sliphorn. He stole this from the WPA and presented it to me
as a token of fealty and I took it backstage at the Palace and gave
it to Jack Teagarden.
Jack said," Meet me after the last show in the cafe next door
and we will go see the town." So I sat around until Jack and
the boys earned their money and along about 11:15p.m. the tootler
from Texas strode in.
We had one drink and Jack dumped that one down his throat before the
bartender could reach for the soda. Jack said," Let's get out
of here. I gotta keep moving."
So we grabbed a taxi and rode over to a shoddy little cabaret. And
Jack had another drink which he poured down pronto. Let's go,"
he urged. "I got to keep moving."
Finally, in the sixth successive joint, I demurred. "What's the
big rush? The Scotch is the same in all these places."
Jack sighed, "You don't understand. I promised my wife a mink
coat six months ago, before I hit the road. Tonight she blew into
town and she is gonna haunt me until I come up with a mink!"
I said," Jack, nobody could catch up to us now. We have been
all over this silly town. Relax."
So Jack sat back and ordered a second drink. And what do you know?
He was just downing the dregs of it when the door of the dive opened
and in burst a very cute little blond. Jack took one look and busted
out the back door. The little blond trudged wearily over to the table
and sat down.
I said, "Mrs. Teagarden?" She nodded. I asked, "Do
your really want a fur coat that much?"
She stared and then she laughed bitterly. "I don't want a coat,"
she wailed. "I love that big lug and I just want him to save
some of his money!"
Well, I took her back to Jack's hotel and I have never, come to think
of it, seen the lady since. I have run into Jack from time to time,
because he never did stop blowing that big sliphorn and he never did
stop going to night clubs.
Being a friend and not a snoop I never dug into Jack's personal affairs
so I do not know whether he stayed married very long to that cute
little blond girl or not.
What mattered was that Hack was a guy dedicated to the sound a hard-lipped
genius can get out of a sliphorn. To a guy like Jack, I suspect that
was more important than almost anything else in the world.
And beyond that, Jack had been a loner ever since he blew the scene
down Texas way at 15 and went out to try the taste of the world.
He was a nervous guy, never quite comfortable sitting down or standing
still. I asked him a couple of years ago when he was playing in Chicago
if he ever felt really peaceful.
Jack said, "When I blow a big noise out of that old horn, then
I feel peaceful. I guess that's the only time."
Wednesday they found Jack in a New Orleans hotel room, cold and dead.
He was 58, the wire story said, and he had run up a lot of mileage
since the year he left Texas at 15.
Eddie Shields, the circulation driver who writes songs, phoned the
minute he read about Jack. He said back in May of 1939 he was driving
home from NBC after plugging a song he wrote, "You Know, Just
As Well As I Know."
And as he drove along another car hit him from the rear. Eddie got
out, mad as a hornet, and the other driver said he was Jack Teagarden
and he was sorry and how could he make things okay?
Eddie said, "Why don't you record my song?" And that's what
Teagarden did. The song earned $22,000, Eddie swears, and Jack wouldn't
take a dime.
Come to think of it, that sounds like Jack. I'm sorry He's gone. And
wherever he is now, I hope the guy from Texas has a big sliphorn to
make that noise that brings him peace.
HANDBOOK OF TEXAS ONLINE
TEAGARDEN, WELDON LEO (1905-1964).
Weldon Leo (Jack) Teagarden, jazz musician, known also as Jackson
T., Mr. T, and Big Gate, was born in Vernon, Texas, on August 20,
1905, to Charles and Helen (Geinger) Teagarden. His father, an amateur
comet player, worked in the oilfields, and his mother was a local
piano instructor and church organist. All four Teagarden children
became prominent musicians.
Jack was given piano lessons when he reached the age of five. He took
up the baritone horn for a time but switched to trombone when he was
seven. He and his mother played duets (trombone and piano) as background
to the silent films at a Vemon theater. In 1918, after his father's
death, the family moved to Chappell, Nebraska, where he and his mother
again worked in the local theater. The following year the family moved
to Oklahoma City.
At sixteen Teagarden first played the trombone professionally, at
a concert near San Antonio as a member of Cotton Bailey's dance and
jazz band. Later the same year (1921) Teagarden joined Peck Kelley's
Bad Boys in Houston. Visiting band leader Paul Whiteman heard the
group there and offered Teagarden a position in his New York orchestra.
For several years, however, Jack continued to play with local groups.
About 1923 he briefly attempted to enter the oilfield business in
Wichita Falls but soon gave up the venture and returned to music.
Teagarden made his first trip to New York in 1926 as a performer on
the eastern tour of Doc Ross's Jazz Bandits. The next year he went
to New York on his own. He originally planned to join Whiteman's ensemble
but happened to hear Ben Pollack's band first. After two months with
the Tommy Gott Orchestra Teagarden secured a position in Pollack's
organization, where he beat Glenn Miller for the seat of first trombone.
He made his first recording in 1927 as a member of the Kentucky Grasshoppers,
an offshoot of Pollack's group. Teagarden later recorded with many
of America's jazz greats including Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, and
Louis Armstrong. He performed with Eddie Condon, Bix BeideIbecke,
Paul Whiteman, the Dorsey brothers, Bob Crosby, Eddie Lang, Peck Kelley,
He was considered by many to be the greatest jazz trombonist of his
era, but his style was so unusual that others did not follow his example.
In 1933, after a brief stint in Mal Hallett's band, he signed on with
Paul Whiteman's orchestra for five years. In 1939 Teagarden formed
his own band; it was musically innovative but not financially successful
and was disbanded in 1947. He teamed up with Louis Armstrong's All-Stars
for some classic recordings in the late 1940s and formed the Jack
Teagarden All Stars Dixieland band in 1951. The All Stars toured Europe
and Asia in 1957-59 as part of a government-sponsored goodwill tour.
Teagarden's playing style was lyrical and seemingly effortless.
He did not follow the traditional Dixieland "tailgate"
treatment of his instrument. Upper register solos, the lack of a
strict solo beat, and the use of lip trills were some of his characteristics.
Having grown up in an area with a large black population, Teagarden
developed an early appreciation of black music, especially the blues
and gospel He was one of the first jazz musicians to incorporate
"blue notes" into his playing. He was also among the first
white jazz musicians to record with black players.
Teagarden was also an excellent singer and developed a respected
blues vocal style. In addition, he was an inventor, redesigning
mouthpieces, mutes, and watervalves and inventing a new musical
slide rule. He also started using Pond's Cold Cream and Pam Cooking
lubricant on his trombone. something many trombonists emulated.
Teagarden appeared in the movies Birth of the Blues (1941), The
Glass Wall (1953), and Jazz on a Summer's Day (1959). He was an
admired recording artist, featured on RCA Victor, Columbia, Decca,
Capitol, and MGM discs. As a jazz artist he won the 1944 Esquire
magazine Gold Award, was highly rated in the Metronome polls of
1937-42 and 1945, and was selected for the Playboy magazine All
Star Band, 1957-60.
Teagarden was the featured perfomer at the Newport Jazz Festival
of 1957. Saturday Review wrote in 1964 that he "walked with
artistic dignity all his life," and the same year Newsweek
praised his "mature approach to trombone jazz."
Teagarden was married first to Ora Binyon in San Angelo, Texas,
in 1923; they had two sons before they were divorced. In the 1930s
he was married to and divorced from, successively, Clare Manzi of
New York City and Edna "Billie" Coats. Teagarden married
Adeline Barriere Gault in September 1942; they had three children
of their own and one foster child.
Early in 1964 Teagarden cut short a performance in New Orleans because
of ill health. He briefly visited a hospital then was found dead
in his room at the Prince Monti Motel in New Orleans on January
15. The cause of death was bronchial pneumonia, which had followed
a liver ailment. He was buried in Los Angeles.