Jack Teagarden Biography

Weldon Leo Teagarden, 29 August 1905, Vernon, Texas, USA, d. 15 January 1964, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. One of the giants of jazz, Teagarden began playing trombone and singing in and around his home-town, encouraged by his mother, Helen Teagarden, a pianist. From his early teens he was playing professionally, touring with various bands, notably that led by Peck Kelley. He continued to gain experience with a number of bands, his reputation spreading ahead of him until, by the time he reached New York City in the late 20s, he was ready for the big time. He joined Ben Pollack in 1928 and through his work with this band, and numerous record dates, he frightened just about every other trombone player in the country into either changing their approach or contemplating premature retirement. He recorded extensively with small bands and with Paul Whiteman, and appeared frequently on radio, sometimes forming his own small groups. An attempt at leading a big band was doomed to failure, owing in part to Teagarden’s casual and unbusinesslike manner and also to his fondness for drink. In 1946 he became a member of Louis Armstrong’s All Stars, touring extensively and reaching audiences who had long idolized him through his recordings. In 1951 he left Armstrong to form his own band. During the remainder of his life he led small groups, some of which included his brother and sister, Charlie and Norma Teagarden. He was also co-leader with Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines of an all-star band that included Peanuts Hucko, William ‘Cozy’ Cole and Max Kaminsky. The ceaseless touring and drinking weakened him and he died suddenly in 1964.

Teagarden’s trombone playing was smooth and stylish and quite unlike any player before him. Although his consummate skill affected the playing of numerous other trombone players, Teagarden’s style was not really developed by his successors. When he played the blues he was much closer to the work of black musicians than any other white musician of his generation. His relaxed sound concealed a thorough command of his instrument and in retrospect it is easy to understand the fear he inspired in musicians like Glenn Miller and Bill Rank. A pointer to the awe with which he was regarded in the profession is the fact that even Tommy Dorsey, himself one of the most technically distinguished trombonists in jazz, refused to play a solo when he found himself on a record session with Teagarden. Heavily influenced by the black blues singers he heard as a child in Texas, Teagarden was also a remarkable singer. He sang in a sleepy drawl and formed a significant bridge in popular music, linking the blues to the white crooning style of Bing Crosby. Despite the success of his blues singing, his later performances with Armstrong inclined more towards the humour and easy-going charm that reflected his personality. Thanks to a succession of definitive recordings, on which he ably demonstrated his superlative trombone technique and lazy vocal charm, Teagarden made many songs his own. These include ‘I’m Coming Virginia’, ‘If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight’, ‘Aunt Hagar’s Blues’, ‘The Sheik Of Araby’ and, especially, ‘Stars Fell On Alabama’ and ‘Basin Street Blues’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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